TEXT FLY WITHIN
THE BOOK ONLY
g^OU 160970 ?m
>S- ~ ^^
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR
i()th August, 1950
ON THE OCCASION
78th BIRTHDAY OF SRI AUROBINDO
SRI AUROBINDO PATHAMANDIR
SRI AUROBINDO PATHAMANDIR
15 College Square, CALCUTTA
All Rights Reserved
SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM PRESS, PONDICHERRY
PRINTED IN INDIA
SAVITRI, BOOK VI, CANTO I
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MOTHER
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
ANJAH-SAVA OR THE RAPID
RITE OF A SEER-PRIEST
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
AND SRI AUROBINDO .
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
THE DIVINE MAYA
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
A FEW WORDS ON SRI AUROBINDO
Nolini Kant a Gupta . 28
Haridas Chaudhuri . 36
T. V. Kapali Sastry . 67
M. P. Pandit
THE BOOK OF FATE
THE WORD OF FATE
TN silent bounds bordering the mortal's plane
A Crossing a wide expanse of brilliant peace
Narad the heavenly sage from Paradise
Came chanting through the large and lustrous air.
Attracted by the golden summer-earth
That lay beneath him like a glowing bowl
Tilted upon a table of the Gods,
Turning as if moved round by an unseen hand
To catch the warmth and blaze of a small sun.
He passed from the immortals' happy paths
To a world of toil and quest and grief and hope,
To these rooms of a see-saw game of death and life.
Across an intangible border of soul-space
He passed from Mind into material things
Amid the inventions of the inconscient Self
And the workings of a blind somnambulist Force.
Below him circling burned the myriad suns:
He bore the ripples of the etheric sea;
A primal Air brought the first joy of touch,
Contracting and expanding this huge world
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
In its formidable circuit through the Void;
He who has conquered the immortals' seats,
Came down to men on earth the Man divine.
As might a lightning streak, a glory fell
Nearing until the rapt eyes of the sage
Looked out from luminous cloud and strangely limned
His face, a beautiful mask of antique joy.
Appearing in light descended where arose
King Aswapathy's palace to the winds
In Madra, flowering up in delicate stone.
There welcomed him the sage and thoughtful king,
At his side a creature beautiful, passionate, wise
Aspiring like a sacrificial flame,
Skyward from its earth-seat through luminous air,
Queen-browed, the human mother of Savitri.
There for .an hour untouched by the earth's siege
They ceased from common life and care and sat
Inclining to the high and rhythmic voice,
While in his measured chant the heavenly seer
Spoke of the toils of men and what the gods
Strive for on earth, and joy that throbs behind
The marvel and the mystery of pain.
He sang to them of the lotus-heart of love
With all its thousand luminous buds of truth,
Which quivering sleeps veiled by apparent things.
It trembles at each touch, it strives to wake
And one day it shall hear a blissful voice
And in the garden of the Spouse shall bloom
When she is seized by her discovered lord.
A mighty shuddering coil of ecstasy
Crept through the deep heart of the universe.
Out of her Matter's stupor, her mind's dreams,
She woke, she looked upon God's unveiled face.
Even as he sang and rapture stole through earth-time
And caught the heavens, came with a call of hooves,
As of her swift heart hastening, Savitri;
Her radiant tread glimmered across the floor.
A happy wonder in her fathomless gaze,
Changed by the halo of her love she came;
Her eyes rich with a shining mist of joy
As one who comes from a heavenly embassy
Discharging the proud mission of her heart,
One carrying the sanction of the gods
To her love and its luminous eternity
She stood before her mighty father's throne
And, eager for beauty on discovered earth
Transformed and new in her heart's miracle-light,
Saw like a rose of marvel, worshipping,
The fiery sweetness of the son of Heaven.
He flung on her his vast immortal look;
His inner gaze surrounded her with its light
And reining back knowledge from his immortal lips
He cried to her, "Who is this that comes, the bride,
The flame-born, and round her illumined head
Pouring their lights her hymeneal pomps
Move flashing about her ? From what green glimmer of glades
Retreating into dewy silences
Or half-seen verge of waters moon-betrayed
Bringst thou this glory of enchanted eyes ?
Earth has gold-hued expanses, shadowy hills
That cowl their dreaming phantom heads in night,
And guarded in a cloistral joy of woods,
Screened banks sink down into felicity
Seized by the curved incessant yearning hands
And ripple-passion of the up-gazing stream:
Amid cool-lipped murmurs of its pure embrace
They lose their souls on beds of trembling reeds.
And all these are mysterious presences
In which some spirit's immortal bliss is felt,
And they betray the earth-born heart to joy.
There hast thou paused, and marvelling borne eyes
Unknown, or heard a voice that forced thy life
To strain its rapture through thy listening soul ?
Or, if my thought could trust this shimmering gaze,
It would say: thou hast not drunk from an earthly cup,
But stepping through azure curtains of the morn
Thou wast surrounded on a magic verge
In brighter countries than man's eyes can bear.
Assailed by trooping voices of delight
And seized mid a sunlit glamour of the boughs
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
In faery woods, led down the gleaming slopes
Of Gundhamadan where the Apsaras roam,
Thy limbs have shared the sports which none has seen,
And in god-haunts thy human footsteps strayed.
Thy mortal bosom quivered with god-speech
And thy soul answered to a Word unknown.
What feet of gods, what ravishing flutes of heaven
Have thrilled high melodies round, from near and far
Approaching through the soft and revelling air.
Which still surprised thou hearest ? They have fed
Thy silence on some red strange-ecstasied fruit
And thou hast trod the dim moon-peaks of bliss.
Reveal, O winged with light, whence thou hast flown
Hastening bright-hued through the green-tangled earth,
Thy body rhythmical v/ith the spring-bird's call.
The empty roses of thy hands are filled
Only with their own beauty and the thrill
Of a remembered clasp, and in thee glows
A heavenly jar, thy firm deep-honied heart,
New-brimming with a sweet and nectarous wine.
Thou hast not spoken with the kings of pain.
Life's perilous music rings yet to thy ear
Far-melodied, rapid, grand, a Centaur's song,
Or soft as water plashing mid the hills,
Or mighty as a great chant of many winds.
Moon-bright thou livest in thy inner bliss.
Thou comest like a silver deer through groves
Of coral flowers and buds of glowing dreams,
Or fleest like a wind-goddess through leaves,
Or roamest, O ruby-eyed and snow-winged dove.
Flitting through thickets of thy pure desires
In the unwounded beauty of thy soul.
These things are only images to thy earth,
But truest truth of that which in thee sleeps.
For such is thy spirit, a sister of the gods,
Thy earthly body lovely to the eyes,
And thou art kin in joy to heaven's sons.
O thou who hast come to this great perilous world
Now only seen through the splendour of thy dreams,
Where hardly love and beauty can live safe,
Thyself a being dangerously great,
A soul alone in a golden house of thought
Has lived walled in by the safety of thy dreams.
On heights of happiness leaving doom asleep
Who hunts unseen the unconscious lives of men.
If thy heart could live locked in the ideal's gold,
As high, as happy might thy waking be !
If for all time doom could be left to sleep!"
He spoke but held his knowledge back from words.
As a cloud plays with lightning's vivid laugh.
But still holds back the thunder in its heart,
Only he let bright images escape.
His speech like glimmering music veiled his thoughts;
Pitiful to mortals, only to them it spoke,
As a wind flatters the bright summer air,
Of living beauty and of present bliss:
He hid in his all-knowing mind the rest.
To those who hearkened to his celestial voice.
The veil heaven's pity throws on future pain
The Immortals' sanction seemed of endless joy.
But Aswapathy answered to the seer;
His listening mind had marked the dubious close,
An ominous shadow felt behind the words,
But calm like one who ever sits facing Fate
Here mid the dangerous contours of earth's life,
He answered covert thought with guarded speech:
"O deathless sage who knowest all things here,
If I could read by the ray of my own wish
Through the carved shield of symbol images
Which thou hast thrown before thy heavenly mind
I might see the steps of a young godlike life
Happily beginning luminous-eyed on earth;
Between the Unknowable and the Unseen
Born on the borders of two wonder- worlds,
It flames out symbols of the Infinite
And lives in a great light of inner suns.
For it has read and broken the hidden seals;
It has drunk of the Immortal's wells of joy,
It has looked across the jewel bars of heaven,
It has entered the aspiring Secrecy,
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
It sees beyond terrestrial common things
And communes with the Powers that build the worlds.
Till through the shining gates and mystic streets
Of the city of lapis lazuli and pearl
Proud deeds step forth a rank and march of gods.
Although in pauses of our human lives
Earth keeps for man some short and perfect hours
When the inconscient tread of Time can seem
The eternal moment which the deathless live,
Yet rare that touch upon the mortal's world:
Hardly a soul and body here are born
In the fierce difficult movement of the stars,
Whose life can keep the paradisal note,
Its rhythm repeat the many-toned melody
Tirelessly throbbing through the rapturous air
Caught in the song that sways the Apsara's limbs
When she floats gleaming like a cloud of light,
A wave of joy on heaven's moon-stone floor.
Behold this image cast by light and love,
A stanza of the ardour of the gods
Perfectly rhymed, a pillared ripple of gold!
Her body like a brimmed pitcher of delight
Shaped in a splendour of gold-coloured bronze
As if to seize earth's truth of hidden bliss.
Dream-made illumined mirrors are her eyes
Draped subtly in a slumberous fringe of jet,
Retaining heaven's reflections in.their depths.
Even as her body, such is she within,
Heaven's lustrous mornings gloriously recur,
Like drops of fire upon a silver page,
In her young spirit yet untouched with tears.
All beautiful things eternal seem and new
To virgin wonder in her crystal soul.
The unchanging blue reveals its spacious thought;
Marvellous the moon floats on through wondering skies;
Earth's flowers spring up and laugh at time and death;
The charmed mutations of the enchanter life
Race like bright children past the smiling hours.
If but this joy of life could last, nor pain
Throw its bronze note into her rhythmed days!
Behold her, singer with the prescient gaze.
And let thy blessing chant that this fair child
Shall pour the nectar of a sorrowless life
Around her from her lucid heart of love,
Heal with her bliss the tired breast of earth
And cast like a happy snare felicity.
As grows the great and golden bounteous tree
Flowering by Alacananda's murmuring waves,
Where with enamoured speed the waters run
Lisping and babbling to the splendour of morn
And cling with lyric laughter round the knees
Of heaven's daughters dripping magic rain
Pearl-bright from moon-gold limbs and cloudy hair,
So are her dawns like jewelled leaves of light.
So casts she her felicity on men.
A flame of radiant happiness she was born,
And surely will that flame set earth alight:
Doom surely will see her pass and say no word,
But too often here the careless Mother leaves
Her chosen in the envious hands of Fate:
The harp of God falls mute, its call to bliss
Discouraged fails mid earth's unhappy sounds;
The strings of the siren Ecstasy cry not here
Or sooner silenced in the human heart.
Of sorrow's songs we have enough: bid once
Her glad and griefless days ring heaven here.
Or must fire always test the great of soul?
Along the dreadful causeway of the gods
Armoured with love and faith and sacred joy,
A traveller to the Eternal's house
Once let unwounded pass a mortal life."
But Narad answered not; silent he sat,
Knowing that words are vain and Fate is lord.
He looked into the unseen with seeing eyes,
Then, dallying with the mortal's ignorance
Like one who knows not, questioning, he cried:
"On what high mission went her hastening wheels?
Whence came she with this glory in her heart
And Paradise made visible in her eyes?
What sudden God has met, what face supreme?"
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
To whom the king, "The red asoca watched
Her going forth which now sees her return.
Arisen into an air of flaming dawn
Like a bright bird tired of her lonely branch
To find her own lord, since to her on earth
He came not yet, this sweetness wandered forth
Cleaving her way with the beat of her rapid wings.
Led by a distant call her vague swift flight
Threaded the summer morns and sunlit lands.
The happy rest her burdened lashes keep
And these charmed guardian lips hold treasured still.
Virgin who comest perfected by joy,
Reveal the name thy sudden heart beats learned.
Whom hast thou chosen kingliest among men?"
And Savitri answered with her still calm voice
As one who speaks beneath the eyes of Fate:
"Father and king, I have carried out thy will.
One whom I sought I found in distant lands;
I have obeyed my heart, I have heard its call.
On the borders of a dreaming wilderness
Mid Shalwa's giant hills and brooding woods,
In his thatched hermitage Dyumathsena dwells,
Blind, exiled, outcast, once a mighty king.
The son of Dyumathsena, Satyavan
I have met on the wild forest's lonely verge.
My father, I have chosen. This is done."
Astonished, all sat silent for a space.
Then Aswapathy looked within and saw
A heavy shadow float above the name
Chased by a sudden and stupendous light;
He looked into his daughter's eyes and spoke:
"Well hast thou done and I approve thy choice.
If this is all, then all is surely well;
If there is more, then all can still be well.
Whether it seem good or evil to men's eyes,
Only for good the secret Will can work,
Our destiny is written in double terms:
Through Nature's contraries we draw near God;
Out of the darkness we still grow to light.
Death is our road to immortality.
'Cry woe, cry woe' the world's lost voices wail,
Yet conquers the eternal Good at last."
Then might the sage have spoken, but the king
In haste broke out and stayed the dangerous word:
"O singer of ultimate ecstasy.
Lend not a dangerous vision to the blind.
Because by native right thou hast seen clear.
Impose not on the mortal's tremulous breast
The dire ordeal that foreknowledge brings;
Demand not now the godhead in our acts.
Here are not happy peaks the heaven-nymphs roam,
Or Coilas or Vaicountha's starry stair,
Abrupt jagged hills only the mighty climb
Are here where few dare even think to rise;
Far voices call down from the dizzy rocks,
Chill, slippery, precipitous are the paths.
Too hard the gods are with man's fragile race
In their large heavens they dwell exempt from Fate
And they forget the wounded feet of man,
His limbs that faint beneath the whips of grief,
His heart that hears the tread of time and death,
The future's road is hid from mortal sight:
He moves towards a veiled and secret face.
To light one step in front is all his hope
And only for a little strength he asks
To meet the riddle of his shrouded fate.
Awaited by a vague and half-seen force,
Aware of danger to his uncertain hours
He guards his flickering yearnings from her breath;
He feels not when the dreadful fingers close
Around him the grasp none can elude.
If thou canst loose her grip then only speak,
Perhaps from the iron snare there is escape:
Our mind perhaps deceives us with its words
And gives the name of doom to our own choice;
Perhaps the blindness of our will is Fate."
He said and Narad answered not the king.
But now the queen alarmed lifted her voice:
"O seer, thy bright arrival has been timed
To this high moment of a happy life.
AUROBIN&O MANDIR ANKuAL
Then let the speech benign of griefless spheres
Confirm this blithe conjunction of two stars
And sanction joy with thy celestial voice.
Here drag not in the peril of our thoughts,
Let not our words create the doom they fear.
Here is no cause for dread, no chance for grief
To raise her ominous head and stare at love:
A single spirit in a multitude,
Happy is Satyavan mid earthly men
Whom Savitri has chosen for her mate,
And fortunate the forest hermitage
Where leaving her palace and riches and a throne
My Savitri will dwell and bring in heaven.
Then let thy blessing put the immortals' seal
On these bright lives' unstained felicity
Pushing the ominous Shadow from their days.
Too heavy falls a Shadow on man's heart;
It dares not be too happy upon earth.
It dreads the blow dogging too vivid joys,
A lash unseen in Fate's extended hand,
The danger lurking in fortune's proud extremes,
An irony in life's indulgent smile
And tremble at the laughter of the gods.
Or if crouches unseen a panther doom,
If wings of Evil brood above that house,
Then also speak, that we may turn aside
And rescue our lives from hazard of wayside doom
And chance entanglement of an alien fate."
And Narad slowly answered to the queen:
"What help is in prevision to the driven?
Safe doors cry opening near, the doomed pass on.
A future knowledge is an added pain,
A torturing burden and a fruitless light
On the enormous scene that Fate has built.
The eternal poet, universal Mind,
Has paged each line of his imperial act;
Invisible the giant actors tread
And man lives like some secret player's mask.
He knows not even what his lips shall speak.
For a mysterious Power compels his steps
And life is stronger than his trembling soul.
None can refuse what the stark Force demands,
Her eyes are fixed upon her mighty aim;
No cry or prayer can turn her from her path,
She has leaped an arrow from the bow of God."
His words were theirs who live unforced to grieve
And help by calm the swaying wheels of life
And the long restlessness of transient things
And the trouble and passion of the unquiet world.
As though her own bosom were pierced the mother saw
The ancient human sentence strike her child,
Her sweetness that deserved another fate
Only a larger measure given of tears.
Aspiring to the nature of the gods,
A mind proof-armoured mailed in mighty thoughts,
A will entire couchant behind wisdom's shield,
Though to still heavens of knowledge she had risen,
Though calm and wise and Aswapathy's queen,
Human was she still and opened her doors to grief;
The stony-eyed injustice she accused
Of the marble godhead of inflexible Law;
Nor sought the strength extreme adversity brings
To lives that stand erect and front the World-Power:
Her heart appealed against the impartial judge,
Taxed with perversity the impersonal One.
Her tranquil spirit she called not to her aid.
But as a common man beneath his load
Grows faint and breathes his pain in ignorant words,
So now she arraigned the World's impassive will:
"What stealthy doom has crept across her path
Emerging from the dark forest's sullen heart,
What evil thing stood smiling by the way
And wore the beauty of the Shalwa boy?
Perhaps he came an enemy from her past
Armed with a hidden force of ancient wrongs,
Himself unknowing, and seized her unknown.
Here dreadfully entangled love and hate
Meet us blind wanderers mid the perils of Time.
Our days are links of a disastrous chain,
Necessity avenges casual steps;
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
Old cruelties come back unrecognised,
The gods make use of our forgotten deeds.
Yet all in vain the bitter law was made.
Our own minds are the justicers of doom.
For nothing have we learned, but still repeat
Our stark misuse of self and others' selves.
And fallen from his ethereal element
Love darkens to the spirit of nether gods.
The dreadful angel angry with his joys
Woundingly sweet he cannot yet forego,
Is pitiless to the soul his gaze disarmed,
He visits with his own pangs his quivering prey
Forcing us to cling enamoured to his grip
As if in love with our own agony.
This is one poignant misery in the world,
And grief has other lassoes for our life.
Our sympathies become our tortures.
Strength have I my own punishment to bear,
Knowing it just, but on this earth perplexed,
Smitten in the sorrow of scourged and helpless things,
Often it faints to meet other suffering eyes.
We are not as the gods who know not grief
And look impassive on a suffering world,
Calm they gaze down on the little human scene
And the short-lived passion crossing mortal hearts.
An ancient tale of woe can move us still,
We keep the ache of breasts that breathe no more,
We are shaken by the sight of human pain,
And share the miseries that others feel.
Ours not the passionless lids that cannot age.
Too hard for us is heaven's indifference:
Ourown tragedies are not enough for us,
All pathos and all sufferings we make ours;
We have sorrow for a greatness passed away
And feel the touch of tears in mortal things.
Even a stranger's anguish rends my heart,
And this, Narad, is my well-loved child.
Hide not from us our doom, if doom is ours.
This is the worst, an unknown face of Fate,
A terror ominous mute felt more than seen
Behind our seat by day, our couch by night,
A Fate lurking in the shadow of our hearts,
The anguish of the unseen that waits to strike.
To know is best, however hard to bear."
Then cried the sage piercing the mother's heart.
Forcing to steel the will of Savitri
His words set free the spring of cosmic Fate.
The great Gods use the pain of human hearts
As a sharp axe to hew their cosmic road:
They squander lavishly men's blood and tears
For a moment's purpose in their fateful work.
This cosmic Nature's balance is not ours
Nor the mystic measure of her need and use.
A single word lets loose vast agencies,
A casual act determines the world's fate.
So now he set free destiny in that hour:
"The truth thou hast claimed; I give to thee the truth.
A marvel of the meeting earth and heavens
Is he whom Savitri has chosen mid men,
His figure is the front of Nature's march,
His single being excels the works of Time.
A sapphire cutting from the sleep of heaven,
Delightful is the soul of Satyavan,
A ray out of the rapturous infinite,
A silence waking to a hymn of joy.
A divinity and kingliness gird his brow;
His eyes keep a memory from a world of bliss.
As brilliant as a lonely moon in heaven,
Gentle like the sweet bud that spring desires,
Pure like a stream that kisses silent banks,
He takes with bright surprise spirit and sense.
A living knot of golden Paradise,
A blue Immense he leans to the longing world,
Time's joy borrowed out of eternity,
A star of splendour or a rose of bliss.
In him Soul and Nature, equal Presences,
Balance and fuse in a wide harmony.
The Happy in their bright ether have not hearts
More sweet and true than this of mortal make
That takes all joy as the world's native gift
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
And to all gives joy as the world's natural right.
His speech carries a light of inner truth.
And a large-eyed communion with the Power
In common things has made veilless his mind,
A seer in earth-shapes of garbless deity.
A tranquil breadth of sky windless and still
Watching the world like a mind of unplumbed thought,
A silent space musing and luminous
Uncovered by the morning to delight,
A green tangle of trees upon a happy hill
Made into a murmuring nest by southern winds,
These are his images and parallels,
His kin in beauty and in depth his peers.
A will to climb lifts a delight to live
Heaven's height companion of earth-beauty's charm,
An aspiration to the immortals' air
Lain on the lap of mortal ecstasy.
His sweetness and his joy attract all hearts
To live with his own in a glad tenancy,
His strength is like a tower built to reach heaven,
A godhead quarried from the stones of life.
loss, if death into its elements .
Of which his gracious envelope was built
Shatter this vase before it breathes its sweets,
As if earth could not keep too long from heaven
A treasure thus unique loaned by the gods,
A being so rare, of so divine a make!
In one brief year when this bright hour flies back
And perches careless on a branch of Time,
This sovereign glory ends heaven lent to earth,
This splendour vanishes from the mortal's sky:
Heaven's greatness came, but was too great to stay.
Twelve swift-winged months are given to him and her;
This day returning Satyavan must die."
A lightning bright and nude the sentence fell.
But the queen cried: "Vain then can be Heaven's grace!
Heaven mocks us with the brilliance of its gifts,
For Death is a cupbearer of the wine
Of too brief joy held up to mortal lips
For a passionate moment by the careless gods.
But I reject the grace and the mockery.
Mounting thy car go forth, Savitri,
And travel once more through the peopled lands.
Alas, in the green gladness of the woods
Thy heart has stooped to a misleading call.
Choose once again and leave this fated head.
Death is the gardener of this wonder-tree;
Love's sweetness sleeps in his pale marble hand.
Advancing in a honeyed line, but closed
A little joy would buy too bitter an end.
Plead not thy choice, for death has made it vain.
Thy youth and radiance were not born to lie
A casket void dropped on a careless soil;
A choice less rare may call a happier fate."
But Savitri answered from her violent heart,
Her voice was calm, her face was fixed like steel:
"Once my heart chose and chooses not again.
The word I have spoken can never be erased,
It is written in the record book of God.
The truth once uttered, from the earth's air effaced,
By mind forgotten, sounds immortally
For ever in the memory of Time.
Once the dice fall thrown by the hand of Fate
In an eternal moment of the gods.
My heart has sealed its troth to Satyavan:
Its signature adverse Fate cannot efface,
Its seal not Fate nor Death nor Time dissolve.
Those who shall part who have grown one being within ?
Death's grip can break our bodies, not our souls;
If death take him, I too know how to die.
Let Fate do with me what she will or can;
I am stronger than death and greater than my fate;
My love shall outlast the world, doom falls from me
Helpless against my immortality.
Fate's law may change, but not my spirit's will."
An adamant will, she cast her speech like bronze
But in the queen's mind listening her words
Rang like the voice of a self-chosen Doom
Denying every issue of escape.
To her own despair answer the mother made;
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
As one she cried who in her heavy heart
Labours amid the sobbing of her hopes
To wake a note of help from sadder strings;
"O child, in the magnificence of thy soul
Dwelling on the border of a greater world.
And, dazzled by thy superhuman thoughts,
Thou lendst eternity to a mortal hope.
Here on this mutable and ignorant earth,
Who is the lover and who is the friend?
All passes here, nothing remains the same.
None is for any on this transient globe.
He whom thou lovest now, a stranger came
And into a far strangeness shall depart.
His moment's part once done upon life's stage
Which for a time was given him from within,
To other scenes he moves and other players
And laughs and weeps mid faces new, unknown.
The body thou hast loved is cast away
Amidst the brute unchanging stuff of worlds
To indifferent mighty Nature and becomes
Crude matter for the joy of others' lives.
But for our souls, upon the wheel of God
For ever turning, they arrive and go,
Married and sundered in the magic round
Of the great Dancer of the boundless dance.
Our emotions are but high and dying notes
Of his wild music changed compellingly
By the passionate movements of a seeking Heart
In the incessant links of hour with hour.
To call down heaven's distant answering song,
To cry to an unseized bliss is all we dare;
Once seized, we lose the heavenly music's sense;
Too near, the rhythmic cry has fled or failed;
All sweetnesses are baffling symbols here.
Love dies before the lover in our breast:
Our joys are perfumes in a brittle vase.
O then what wreck is this upon Time's sea
To spread life's sails to the hurricane desire
And call for pilot the unseeing heart!
O child, wilt thou proclaim, wilt thou then follow
Against the Law that is the eternal will
The autarchy of the rash titan's mood
To whom his own fierce will is the one law
In a world where Truth is not, nor Light nor God?
Only the gods can speak what now thou speakst.
Thou art human, think not like a god.
For man, below the god, above the brute,
Is given the calm reason as his guide;
He is not driven by an unthinking will
As are the actions of the bird and beast;
He is not moved by stark Necessity
Like the senseless motion of inconscient things.
The giant's and the titan's furious march
Climbs to usurp the kingdom of the gods
Or skirts the demon magnitudes of Hell;
In the unreflecting passion of their hearts
They dash their lives against the eternal Law
And fall and break by their own violent mass:
The middle path is made for thinking man.
To choose his steps by reason's vigilant light,
To choose his path among the many paths
Is given him, for each his difficult goal
Hewn out of infinite possibility.
Leave not thy goal to follow a beautiful face.
Only when thou hast climbed above thy mind
And livst in the calm vastness of the One
Can love be eternal in the eternal bliss
And Love divine replace the human tie.
There is a shrouded Jaw, an austere force:
It bids thee strengthen thy undying spirit;
It offers its severe benignances
Of work and thought and measured grave delight
As steps to climb to God's far secret heights.
Then is our life a tranquil pilgrimage,
Each year a mile from the heavenly Way,
Each dawn opens into a larger Light.
Thy acts are thy helpers, or events are signs,
Waking and sleep are opportunities
Given to thee by an immortal Power:
So canst thou raise thy pure unvanquished spirit
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
Till spread to heaven in a wide vesper calm
Indifferent and gentle as the sky,
It greatens slowly into timeless peace."
But Savitri replied with steadfast eyes:
"My will is part of the eternal will,
My fate is what my spirit's strength can make,
My fate is what my spirit's strength can bear;
My strength is not the titan's, it is God's.
I have discovered my glad reality
Beyond my body in another's being:
I have found the deep unchanging soul of love.
Then how shall I desire a lonely good,
Or slay, aspiring to white vacant peace, '
The endless hope that made my soul spring forth
Out of its infinite solitude and sleep?
My spirit has glimpsed the glory for which it came,
Beating of one vast heart in the flarne of things,
My eternity clasped by his eternity
And, tireless of the sweet abysms of Time,
Deep possibility always to love.
This, this is first, last joy and to its throb
The riches of a thousand fortunate years
Are a poverty. Nothing to me are death and grief
Or ordinary lives and happy days.
And what to me are common souls of men
Or eyes and lips that are not Satyavan's?
I have no need to draw back from his arms
And the discovered paradise of his love
And journey into a still infinity.
Only now for my soul in Satyavan
I treasure the rich occasion of my birth:
In sunlight and a dream of emerald ways
I shall walk with him like gods in Paradise.
If for a year, that year is all my life
And yet I know this is not all my fate
Only to live and love awhile and die.
For I know now why my spirit came on earth
And who I am and who he is I love.
I have looked at him from my immortal Self,
I have seen God smile at me in Satyavan;
I have seen the Eternal in a human face."
Then none could answer to her words. Silent
They sat and looked into the eyes of Fate.
END OF CANTO ONE
A LL Art is interpretation. Creation is a misnomer; nothing in this world
"^ is created, all is manifested. All exists previously in the mind of the
Knower. Art may interpret that which is already manifest or was manifest
at one time, or it may interpret what will be manifest hereafter. It may
even be used as one of the agencies in the manifestation. A particular type
of face and figure may be manifested in the work of a popular artist and
in a single generation the existing type of face and figure in the country
may change and mould itself to the new conception. These things are
there in the type in the causal world with which our superconscious
selves are perpetually in touch; they manifest in the psychical and become
part of our thought. That thought we put out into the material world
and there it takes shape and body as movements, as institutions, as
poetry. Art and knowledge, as living men and women. Man creates his
world because he is the psychic instrument through whom God mani-
fests that which He had previously arranged in Himself. In this sense
Art can create the past, the present and the future. It can re-manifest
that which s was and has passed away, it can fix for us that which is, it
can prophesy that which will be.
Its normal sphere, however, is interpretation of a less pregnant and forceful
kind. Here too, there are three things which it can interpret in the object
it selects, the causal part or thing in itself, the psychical part, or its passing
imaginations, phases, emotions; or the physical part, the outward appear-
* Written in 1910 (for the "Karmayogin"). Unpublished.
ance, incident or movement as our eyes see them. Indian Art attaches
itself to the two higher interpretations, European to the two lower. They
meet in the middle term of Art, the imaginative and emotional; but each
brings with it the habits of vision, the conventions, the mastering movement
and tendency of the soul downward to earth or upward to heaven, born of
their main pre-occupation so that even here, though they meet on common
ground, they remain diverse and unreconciled.
In dealing with the form the question between them is: shall I reproduce
what the eye sees or shall I reproduce what the soul sees? The lower type of
European Art is content with reproducing what the eye sees. This it calls
realism and fidelity to Nature narrowing Nature to the limited confines
cf the materially sensible. The reproduction, of course, is not a real
reproduction but only an approximation within the limitations imposed by
the canvas, the brush and the paint box. It is really as close an imitation
as our instruments will allow, absolute fidelity being rarely possible. This
style of Art had perhaps its utility, but now that we have photographs
and can put colour into the photographs, its separate field is in danger
of being taken from it.
A higher European Art takes imitation of the form as its basis, but its
nobler objective is not the imitation of form, but the imitation of emotion.
The artist tries to see and recover on canvas not only the body, but so much
of the feeling as the body can for the moment express. This may often be a
great deal. In certain moments of powerful feeling or critical action a great
deal of our psychical selves may come out in the eyes, the face, the gesture,
the pose. This the artist imitates. He not only shows us an object or an
incident, but he fixes on the canvas a moment in the souHife of the object.
The habitual mood also stamps itseJf to a great extent on the face and cer-
tain traits of character betray themselves in expression and feature. These
too the imitative artist transfers to the canvas. When not exaggerated or
theatrical, this kind of art can be strong, effective and dramatic. But it
has serious limitations. So much of the inner truth as the outward form
interprets, this Art interprets. Its interpretation is second-hand, its vision
derived and unable to go beyond its authority.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
A still higher reach is attained by imaginative European Art. Imagination,
according to the European idea, is creative, not interpretative. What is
really meant is that the imaginative artist transfers something that belongs
to himself into the object of his study, some fancy that has flashed across
or some idea that has mastered his mind. Either he reads it into his subject
by unconscious transference or he deliberately uses his subject as a mere
excuse for putting his fancy or his idea into line and colour. The artist
is interpreting himself, not his subject. This egoistic Art has often a very
high value and some of the best European work has been done in this kind.
More rarely his imaginative sympathy enables him to catch a glimpse of
the thing itself hidden in the form. His imagination usually plays with it
and prevents the vision from being true in all its parts, but he is able to
do work of the highest attractiveness, vigour or artistic beauty.
In all these kinds the European binds himself by the necessity of repro-
ducing the actual outward form imposed by material Nature. He is a
bondsman to form and such do not attain to that spiritual freedom which
is the first condition of the sight spiritual. When he tries to interpret the
thing in itself, he degenerates usually into allegory. Recently the
Impressionist School in Europe have tried to break the fetters of the form;
they have insisted that what one really sees in an object is not the rounded,
solid material form but something rarer and different. In reality^ they are
groping their way towards an attempt at seeing and interpreting something
hidden in the object, something the soul sees before the eye can catch it.
Ignorant of the way, they seldom rise beyond a striking and fantastic ima-
gination, but sometimes an inspired eye catches the true vision.
The Indian begins at the ether end. He sees the thing itself either by
sukshma-drishti, the soul-sight, or by dhydna, a spiritual union with the
object studied in which the truth it expresses dawns on the mind by the
process of revelation. This he transfers to canvas by letting his inspired
and informed Will guide the pencil and the brush instead of using his
intellect or merely technical means to find the best way of expression. He
uses technique with power, but does not rely on it chiefly. The body he
paints is the one which will in every part of it express the thing itself, not
the actual material body which largely conceals it, When he descends into
the psychical part and seeks to express imaginations, emotions, or passing
phases, he carries his method with him. Not content with expressing as
much of the feeling as the actual body reveals, he sees the emotion in its
fullness by dhydna or soul-sight and forces the body into a mould fit for
its absolute expression. He sees the soul and paints it or he sees the heart
or mind and paints it. He sees and, can, if he will, paint the body merely.
But usually he does not will it.
THINGS SEEN IN SYMBOLS
What is dhydnat Ordinarily, when a man is absorbed in thought and
dead to all that is going on around him, he is supposed to be in dhydna.
Or concentration of the whole thought on a single object to the exclusion
of every other, is called dhydna. But neither of these ideas corresponds
exactly with the whole truth; they represent only particular stages of the
process of meditation. Dhydna is a wide term covering a number of pro-
cesses which rise from ordinary attention to nirvikalpa samddhi.
The distinguishing feature of dhydna is that it puts out a steady force
of knowledge on the object of knowledge. When this process is successful,
when there is a steady demand on the object to give up its secret, it is called
by Patarjali sanyama. Even when it is only partially successful, it is called
Ordinary thought is not dhvdna. Ordinary thought is simply the restless-
ness of the mind playing with associations^ speculations, trains of reasoning.
In* order to have cthydna,the restlessness of the mind must be utterly settled,
the intellect must become like a calm and waveless sea, not a ripple on its
The principle is that all knowledge is in oneself, in the knower. The
knower is in myself; he is also in the object of knowledge, e.g., a stone or
a tree. By dhydna the veil of ignorance, the chaos of misunderstandings
which interfere between the knower in me and the knower in the tree or
the stone is removed; we enter into relation with each other; we are in Yoga.
All knowledge about the stone is in the stone itself; in dhydna it comes
into my mind. When ?t comes into my mind, the knower in me says: "It
is true, the knowledge is in me also and I see it there." Or, if there is a
. mistake, he says> "There is a mistake, the mind is interfering; the knowledge
is in me and I see it otherwise."
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
The whole world is one. The knower in the stone and the knower in
myself are one; I am He. It is God in me, God in the stone. The know-
ledge in me and the knowledge in the stone are one; I am that. It is God
in me, God in the stone. The stone is an object of knowledge, I am also
an object of knowledge. These two also are one, God as myself, God as
the stone. God is the only object of knowledge, there is no other. God is
the only knower, there is no other. God is the knowledge also. Jndtd,
jndnaniy jneyam, they are one.
The mind creates difference. When there is disturbance on the waters,
there are many waves, and each wave cries, "I am I, I am I; you are you;
we are different." When the sea sinks to rest, the waves as they go inward,
no longer cry, "I am I", but "I am He." The still and waveless sea, that
is a delightful and beautiful condition. The stormy 3 myriad-crested ocean,
that also is a very beautiful and delightful condition. Only let the waves
have the knowledge, let them say, "I am I for the sake of delight; you are
you for the sake of delight. But also you are I, I am you. And both you and
I are He." That is jndnam y that is Yoga.
The still sea is a condition, and the thousand waves are a condition.
He who is the sea, is more than disturbance, more than stillness. He contains
All. He is All. Even the infinite sea is only one of His manifestations.
THE REAL DIFFICULTY
The real difficulty is always in ourselves, not in our surroundings. There
are three things necessary in order to make men invincible, Will, Dis-
interestedness and Faith. We may have a will to emancipate ourselves, but
sufficient faith may be lacking. We may have a faith in our ultimate emanci-
pation, but the will to use the necessary means may be wanting. And even
if there are will and faith, we may use them w : th a violent attachment to
the fruit of our work or with passions of hatred, blind excitement or hasty
forcefulness which may produce evil reactions. For this reason it is neces-
sary, in a work of such magnitude, to have resort to a higher Power than
that of mind and body in order to overcome unprecedented obstacles. This
is the need of sddhand.
God is within us^, an Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Power;
we and He are of one nature and, if we get into touch with Him and put
ourselves in His hands, He will pour into us His own forge and we shall
realise that we too have our share of godhead, our portion of omnipotence,
omnipresence and omniscience. The path is long, but self-surrender makes
it short; the way is difficult, but perfect trust makes it easy.
Will is omnipotent, but it must be divine will, selfless, tranquil, at ease
about results. "If you had faith even as a grain of mustard-seed," said
Jesus, "you would say to this mountain, Come, and it would come to you."
What was meant by the word Faith 3 was really Will accompanied with
perfect sraddhd. Sraddhd does not reason, it knows; for it commands sight
and sees what God wills, and it knows that what is God's will, must happen.
Sraddhd, not blind bur using sight spiritual, can become omniscient.
Will is also omnipresent. It can throw itself into all in whom it comes
into contact and give them temporarily or permanently a portion of its
power, its thought, its enthusiasms. The thought of a solitary man can
become, by exercise of selfless and undoubting will, the thought of a nation.
The will of a single hero can breathe courage into the hearts of a million
This is the sadhana that we have to accomplish. This is the condition
of our emancipation. We have been using an imperfect will with imperfect
faith and imperfect disinterestedness. Yet the task we have before us is
not less difficult than to move a mountain.
The force that can do it, exists. But it is hidden in a secret chamber
within us and of that chamber God holds the key. Let us find Him and
Conversations with the Mother
HAT is the distinction between peace and silence? How are they
differentiated from equanimity?"
Equanimity is a condition of your being which is more or less in reference
to external things, to the environment and circumstances in the midst of
which you happen to be. It is the quality of unshakableness in the being
which nothing touches, nothing affects, which is not subject to reaction
to any impact from outside upon it. Equanimity fills you with a sense of
solidity, of absolute security and firmness: it is, indeed, the foundation^
the bed-rock on which your Yoga and your new life are to be based.
Peace and silence are in and of our being and are not related to anything
outside it. Both of them mean stillness of the being; but silence gives one
the impression of something deep or high, while peace is something that
is vast and wide one is, as it were, a vertical and the other a horizontal
consciousness. Silence opens the way upward, it is the passage to other
ranges of consciousness beyond; and the more perfect the silence, the higher
you rise. Peace, on the other hand, gives you a sense of something spherical,
that is to say, it is a widening of the consciousness to its extreme limits,
containing and enveloping everything within its embrace. Silence is more
of the nature of aspiration, while peace is that of poise. Peace is like when
in climbing up you have reached a definite stage and established yourself
there; it is something static. But in silence there is something that looks
forward and awaits. Peace gives you the feeling of an achievement, of
having accomplished something and being contented with it; silence is
big with a promise of yet more.
does the vibration of intense ecstasy affect one's peace and silence?"
True ecstasy, even of the intensest kind, does not affect either in the
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MOTHER
least. In fact, peace and silence carry in them the very basis of Delight.
And the more perfect the peace and the silence,, the greater the possibility
of a more intense delight. There is nothing excited about true ecstasy;
on the contrary, all excitement serves only to disturb and destroy it. Peace
and silence are indispensable conditions of real ecstasy. The movement
first begins with a sense of perfect ease and this sense of ease, as it deepens
and becomes more and more intense, develops into ecstasy. Ecstasy is
always something very deep and very calm; it is not a movement belonging
to the surface consciousness, that brings great excitement or restlessness.
"Still there is a difference between ecstasy and peace?"
It is not the same experience that you have in both; but they can go
together. Peace or silence represents the motionless condition; whatever
their difference, they come and meet at this point. When you go to the
extreme limit in both you arrive at this immobility. Peace and silence meet
and fuse at the farthest borderland of the manifested universe, where you
are on the point of stepping over to the other side. Now, when to this
immobility is added the quality of intensity, you have what is called ecstasy.
Ecstasy is born out of the perfectly balanced union of a high and profound
and vast calmness with a concentrated intensity. These two movements,
of calmness and intensity, usually alternate each other and do not appear
simultaneously in your consciousness. You have a period of wide calmness
and another of gathered intensity; you do not have them together. But there
is a stage where you can make them join and unite in something higher and
more complete and that is ecstasy. Ecstasy is not a movement of the
vital being; it is far removed from the turmoil and agitation proper to the
vital nature, it is founded on peace and silence and equanimity.
NOLINI KANTA GUPTA
CRI AUROBINDO'S Yoga, it has been said, begins where other yogas
end. Other yogas end by the attainment of the Brahman or some
form or mode of it or something akin to it, which means the transcendent
Reality, the supreme status of the Spirit beyond name and form, beyond
all particular manifestation. It is the final realisation of the soul in its
upward ascent, the nee plus ultra. Sri Aurobindo's Yoga takes that poise for
granted and upon it bases its own development and structure. In other
words, it works for the descent of the Spirit upon the level from which the
Spirit worked up. The Mystery of the descent is the whole characteristic
secret of this Yoga.
The general idea of a descent of the Spirit, that is to say, the Divine,
the conception of avatara and avatarana is, of course, not new. But here
there is a difference. Avatara or Avatarana in the older disciplines was
more or less an intervention of God as God, the working of a Force come
specifically in the midst of the world circumstances, maintaining still its
divine transcendental character, to work out a given problem, accomplish
a special mission and then, when the work is done, retire to its own status.
It is, as it were, a weapon of flame and light hurled into the earthly fray
even like the discus of Vishnu and having accomplished its mission,
going back into the hand of the thrower, its fount and origin. The task of
the Avatara was usually bhubhara-harana, lightening earth's load: it means
removing the sinful and preserving the virtuous, re-establishing the reign
of Law. Esoterically, he also embodied the Way to spiritual fulfilment.
There was no question of saving humanity it was more serving than
saving by transfiguring it, giving it a new body and life and mind, nor
was there any idea of raising the level of earth-consciousness.
The Divine acts in three different ways in his three well-known aspects.
As the transcendent Reality he is above and beyond creation, he is the
Unmanifest, although he may hold within either involved or dissolved the
entire manifestation. Next, he is the manifestation the cosmic or the uni-
versal; he is one with creation, immanent in it, still its master, and lord.
Finally, he has an individual aspect: he is a Person with whom human beings
can enter into relations of love and service. The Divine incarnate as a
human being, is a special manifestation of the Individual Divine, Even then,
as an embodied earthly person, he may act in a way characteristic of any
of the three aspects. The Divine descended upon earth, as viewed by Sri
Aurobindo, does not come in his transcendental aspect, fundamentally
aloof and away, in his absolute power and consciousness, working miracles
here; for transcendence can do nothing but that in the midst of conditions
left as they are. Nor does he manifest himself only as his cosmic power
and consciousness, embedded in the creation and all-pervading, exercising
his influence through the pressure of Universal Law, perhaps in a con-
centrated form, still working gradually^ step by step, as though through a
logical process, for the maintenance of the natural order and harmony,
lokasamgraha. God can be more than that, individualised in a special, even
a human sense. His individual being can and does hold within itself his
cosmic and transcendental self covertly in a way but overtly too in a singular
manner at the same time. The humanised personality of the Divine with
his special role and function is at the very centre of Sri Aurobindo's solution
of the world enigma. The little poem "God's Labour" in its short compass
outlines and explains beautifully the grand Mystery.
The usual idea of God (as the theists hold, for example) is that he is an
infinite eternal impassible being, aloof from human toils and earthly tur-
moils, himself untouched by these and yet, in and through them, directing
the world for an inscrutable purpose, unless it is for leaning towards it
and stretching out the hand of Grace to those of the mortals who wish to come
out of the nightmare of life, sever the coils of earthly existence. But the
Divine in order to be and remain divine need not hold to his seat above
and outside the creation, severely separated from his creatures. He can,
on the contrary, become truly the ordinary man and labour as all others,
yet maintaining his divinity and being conscious of it. After all, is not
man, every human being, built in the same pattern, a composite of the
earthly human element supported and infused by a secret divine element?
However, God, the individual Divine, does become man, one of them and
one with them. Only, his labour thereby increases manifold, hard and
heavy, although for that very reason full of a bright rich multiple promise.
The Divine's self-humanisation has for it a double purpose: (i) to show
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
man by example how he can become what he truly is, how he can divinise
himself: the Divine as man lives out the life of a sadhaka wholly and com-
pletely; (2) to help concretely by his own force of consciousness the world
and man in their endeavour for progress and evolution, to give the help
wholly and completely from the innermost status of the self down to the
most external physical body and the material field. This help again is a
twofold function. The first is to make available, gather within easy reach,
the high realisations, the spiritual treasures that are normally stored in a
heaven somewhere else. The Divine Man brings down the divine attributes
close to our earth, turns them from mere far possibilities into near probab-
ilities, even imminent realities. They are made part and parcel, constituent
elements of the earthly atmosphere, so that one has only to open one's mouth
to breathe in, extend one's arms to seize and possess them: even to this
opening and this gesture man is helped by the concrete touch and presence
of the Divine. Further, the help and succour come in another way which
is more intimate, more living and appealing to man.
A great mystery of existence, its central rub is the presence of Evil. All
spiritual, generally all human endeavour has to face and answer this Sphinx.
As he answers, so will be his fate. He cannot rise up even if he wishes,
earth cannot progress even when there is the occasion, because of this
besetting obstacle. It has many names and many forms. It is Sin or Satan in
Christianity; Buddhism calls it Mara. In India it is generally known as
Maya. Grief and sorrow, weakness and want, disease and death are its
external and ubiquitous forms. It is a force of gravitation, as graphically
named by a modern Christian mystic, that pulls man down, fixes him upon
earth with its iron law of mortality, never allowing him to mount high and
soar in the spiritual heavens. It has also been called the Wheel of Karma or
the cycle of Ignorance. And the aim of all spiritual seekers has been to rise
out of it somehow, by force of tapasya, energy of concentrated will or
divine Grace go through or by-pass and escape into the Beyond. This is
the path of ascent I referred to at the outset. In this view it is taken for
granted that this creation is transient and empty of happiness anityam
asukham (Gita) it is anatta, empty of self or consciousness (Buddha) and
it will be always so. The only way to deal with it, the way of the wise, is to
discard it and pass over.
Sri Aurobindo's view is different. He says Evil can be and has to be
conquered here itself, here upon this earth and in this body the ancients
also said, ihaiva tairjitah, they have conquered even here, praksharira-
vimokshanat, before leaving the body. You have to face Evil full-square and
conquer it, conquer it not in the sense that you simply rise above it so that
it no longer touches you, but that you remain where you are in the very
field of Evil and drive it out from there completely, erase and annihilate it
where it was reigning supreme. Hence God has to come down from his
heaven and dwell here upon earth and among men and in the conditions of
mortality, show thus by his living and labour that this earthly earth can be
transformed into a heavenly earth and this human body into a "body divine".
Matter or the physical body is not by itself the centre of gravity of the
human consciousness; it is not that that pins the soul or the self to the life
of pain and misery and incapacity and death. Matter is not the Evil, nor
made up of Evil; it contains or harbours evil under the present circumstances,
even as dross is mixed up, inextricably as it appears, with the noble metal
in the natural ore; but the dross can be eradicated and the free metal
brought out, pure and noble in its, own true nature. It is, as Rumi, the
Persian mystic, says in his famous imagery, like a piece of iron, dull and
dismal to look at, but when put into fire slowly acquires the quality of fire,
turning into a glowing and radiant beauty, yet maintaing its original form
and individuality and concrete, even material reality. Now, the crust or
dross that has to be eliminated in Matter is called by Sri Aurobindo
"Inconscience". Matter is inconscient, therefore it is unconscious and igno-
rant. Make it conscious, ft will be radiant and full of knowledge. That is the
great transformation needed, the only way to true and total reformation.
The Divine descends into Matter precisely to work out that transformation.
It is a long dredging process, tedious and arduous, requiring the utmost
patience and perseverance, even to the absolute degree. For Inconscience,
in essence, although a contingent reality, local and temporal, and therefore
transient, is nonetheless the hardest, most obdurate and resistant reality:
it lies thick and heavy upon the human vehicle. It is massed layer upon
layer. Its first formation in the higher altitudes of the mind is perhaps like
a thin fluid deposit; it begins as an individualised separative consciousness
stressing more and more its exclusiveness. Through the lower ranges of the
mind and the vitality it crystallises and condenses gradually; in the worlds
of thinking and feeling^ enjoying and dynamic activity, it has still a malleable
and mixed consistency, but when it reaches and possesses the physical
being, it becomes the impervious solid obscurity that Matter presents.
The root of the Cosmic Evil is in Matter. From there it shoots up and
overshadows the upper layers of our being and consciousness. Even if the
mind is cleaned, the vital cleared, still if the physical consciousness is not
sufficiently probed into, purified and reclaimed, then nothing permanent is
done, one would build upon sand. A1J efforts, spiritual or other, at the
regeneration and reformation of mankind and a good many individual
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
endeavours too have come to a sorry end, because the foundation was not
laid sufficiently deep and secure. One must dig into Matter as far down as
possible like Rishi Agastya in the Veda even to the other end. For there
is another mystery there, perhaps the Mystery of mysteries. The deeper
you go down into Matter, as you clear up the jungle and bring in the higher
light, you discover and unlock strange and mighty energies of consciousness
secreted there, even like the uranium pile in the atomic world. It is revealed
to you that Inconscience is not total absence of consciousness, it is simply
consciousness asleep, in-gathered, entranced. And this nether consciousness
is, after all, one with the supreme Consciousness. It is itself the best weapon
to bring about its own transformation. Not only the higher self, but the
lower self too must be salvaged and saved by its own selfatmana atmanam
The Divine brings down with himself his shaft of light, and the light, as it
spreads, begins to scatter and dissolve the clouds of ignorance. The Divine
comes here below and as he formulates and concentrates his consciousness
in or as an individualised channel, the power of tfee consciousness becomes
dynamic and concrete and works out the desired change in the material
plane. In the descent the Divine has to assume the lower potentials on the
inferior levels and this involves an apparent veiling and lessening of his
higher and divine degrees. In other words, the Divine in becoming human
accepts and embraces in that embodiment all that humanity normally means,
its weaknesses and frailties, its obstacles and difficulties, all the ignorance
and inconscience. This sacrifice he has agreed to, has undertaken in order
to create out of it a golden body, a radiant matter, a heavenly or divinised
God made man, the spirit become flesh: this is Grace, the benediction of
the Holy One upon the sinful earth. The working of Grace in one of its
characteristic movements has been beautifully envisaged in esoteric Chris-
tianity. The burden of sin that is to say, of weakness, impurity and igno-
rancelies so heavy upon man, the force of gravitation is so absolute, that
it is divine intervention alone, and in the most physical sense, which can
save him. God takes upon himself man's load and relieves him of it: thus
freed he can soar up easily and join the company of the Happy in heaven
alongside God. This is the ransom paid by God to His Enemy, the vicarious
atonement suffered by the Divine, the cross he has to bear when he comes
upon this earth., into this vale of tears. It is said, in terms of human feeling,
pity so moved him that he left the happy abode of heaven, came down among
men and lived like one of them, sharing the*r sorrow and pain and. what is
divine, taking up the evil into himself, drinking, as it were, out of the poi-
soned bowl, so that man, frail mortal creature, may escape his doom.
This way too, as all other ways, has indeed been the way of escape. God
came down in order to take away some men with him. They were the blessed
ones, but the normal humanity remains as it is, as it has beer, on the whole.
The few that pass beyond do not seem to leave any trace here below.
There was no regeneration of mankind, no reformation of earthly life.
Sri Aurobindo aims at a power of consciousness, a formulation of the
divine being that is integral. It takes up the whole man and it embraces
all men: it works on a cosmic scale individually and collectively. That
force of consciousness identifies itself with each and every individual being
in all its parts and limbs; establishing itself in and working through their
normal and habitual functionings, moulds and refashions the earthly vessel.
It is a global power, first of all, because it is the supreme creative Power,
the original energy of consciousness that brought out this manifested uni-
verse, the matrix or the nodus thaf holds together and in an inviolable un ; ty
and harmony the fundamental truth-aspects of the one and indivisible Reality
This luminous source and substance of all created things consists of their
basic true truths which assume disguised and deformed appearances under
the present conditions of the world. It is therefore, in the second instance,
the secret power in created things which manifests in them as the evolu-
tionary urge, which drives them to rediscover their reality and re-form
the appearance as the direct expression and embodiment of this inner soul.
The Divine incarnates, as an individual in the concrete material actuality,
this double aspect of the utter truth and reality. There are, what may be
called, intermediary incarnations, some representing powers aspects of the
Divine in the higher mental or overmental levels of consciousness, others
those of the inner heart, yet others again those of the dynamic vital con-
sciousness. But the integral Divine, he who unites and reconciles in his
body the highest height and the lowest depth, who has effectuated in him
something like the "marriage of Heaven and Hell" is an event of the future
even perhaps of the immediate future. The descent into hell is an image
that has been made very familiar to man, but all its implications have not
been sounded. For what we were made familiar with was more or less an
image of hell, not hell itself, a region or experience in the vital (may be
even in the mental): real hell is not the mass of desires or weaknesses of
the flesh, not "living flesh", but dead Matter whose other name is
Inconscience. In the older disciplines the central or key truth, the heart of
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
reality where the higher and the lower Brahman and Maya, the Absolute
and the Contingency, the One and the Many, God and the World met
and united in harmony was by-passed: one shot from below right into the
supreme Absolute; the matrix of truth-creation was ignored. Even so, at
the other end, the reality of brute matter was not given sufficient weight,
the spiritual light disdained to reach it (vijigupsate).
The integral Divine not merely suffers (as in the Christian tradition)
a body material, He accepts it in his supernal delight, for it is his own
being and substance: it is He in essence and it will become He in actuality.
When he comes into the world, it is not as though it were a foreign country;
he comes to his own, only he seeks to rebuild it on another scale, the scale of
unity and infinity, instead of the present scale of separativism and finiteness.
He comes among men not simply because he is moved by human miseries;
he is no extra-terrestrial person, a bigger human being, but is himself this
earth, this world, all these miseries; he is woven into the fabric of the uni-
verse, he is the warp and woof that constitute creation. It is not a mere
movement of sympathy or benevolence that actuates him, it is a total and
absolute identification that is the ground and motive of his activity. When
he assumes the frame of mortality, it is not that something outside and totally
incongruous is entering into him, it is pan and parcel of himself, it is himself
in one of his functions and phases. Consequently, his work in and upon
the material world and life may be viewed as that of self-purification and
self-illumination, self-discipline and self-realisation. Also, the horrors of
material existence, being part of the cosmic play and portion of his infinity,
naturally find shelter in the individual divine incarnation, are encompassed
in his human embodiment. It is the energy of his own consciousness that
brought out or developed even this erring earth from within it: that same
energy is now available, stored up in the individual formation, for the re-
creation of that earth. The advent and acceptance of material existence
meant, as a kind of necessity in a given scheme of divine manifestation, the
appearance and play of Evil, the negation of the very divinity. Absolute
Consciousness brought forth absolute unconsciousness the inconscient
because of its own self-pressure, a play of an increasingly exclusive con-
centration and rigid objectivisation. That same consciousness repeats its
story in the individual incarnation : it plunges into the material life and matter
and identifies itself with Evil. But it Is then like a pressed or tightened
spring; it works at its highest potential. In other words, the Divine in the
body now works to divinise the body itself, to make of the negation a con-
crete affirmation. The inconscient will be embodied consciousness.
The humanist said, "Nothing human I reckon foreign to me". In a deeper
and more absolute sense the divine Mystic of the integral Yoga says the same.
He is indeed humanity incarnate, the whole mankind condensed and epi-
tomised in his single body. Mankind as embedded in ignorance and incons-
cience, the conscious soul lost in the dark depths of dead matter, is he and
his whole labour consists in working in and through that obscure "gravi-
tational" mass, to evoke and bring down the totality of the superconscient
force, the creative delight which he is essentially in his inmost and topmost
being. The labour within himself is conterminous with the cosmic labour,
and the change effected in his being and nature means a parallel change in
the world outside, at least a ready possibility of the change. All the pains
and weaknesses normal humanity suffers from, the heritage of an inconscient
earthly existence, the Divine takes into his incarnated body all and more
and to the highest degree into a crucible as it were, and works out there the
alchemy. The natural man individually shares also each other's burden in
some way, for all are interconnected in life action at one point has a re-
action at all other points: only the sharing is done unconsciously and is
suffered or imposed than accepted and it tends to be at a minimum. An
ordinary mortal would break under a greater pressure. It is the Avatar
who comes forward and carries on his shoulders the entire burden of earthly
Suffering, incapacity and death are, it is said, the wages of earthly life;
but they are, in fact, reverse aspects of divine truths. Whatever is here
below has its divine counterpart above. What appears as matter, inertia,
static existence here below is the devolution of pure existence, being or
substance up there. Life-force, vital dynamism here is the energy of con-
sciousness there. The pleasure of the heart and emotions and enjoyment
is divine delight. Finally, our mind with its half-lighted thinking power,
its groping after knowledge has at its back the plenary light of the Super-
mind. So the aim is not to reject or withdraw from the material, vital and
mental existence upon the earth and in this body, but house in them, make
them concrete vehicles^ expressions and embodiments of what they really are.
Pain and suffering, disease and incapacity, even age and death are fortui-
tous auxiliaries; they have come upon us simply because of the small and
partial scale of our life to which we agreed. One can live here below, live a
full life, upon a larger scale, upon the scale of infinity and eternity. That
need not dissolve body and life and mind, the triple ranges that make up
our earthly existence. In brief, man himself is not truly man, he is the
reverse aspect of God; and when he becomes divine and remains not merely
human, he but realises what he is truly and integrally himself.
Space, Time and Eternity
DR. HARIDAS CHAUDHURI
A PRECISE determination of the nature of space and time is essential
"^ to anything approaching a fairly adequate philosophic vision of
Reality. Space and time are inalienable features of the world of our common
experience and yet philosophy insists upon the infinity and eternity of
knowledge in the strict sense of the term. Philosophy not only aims at
transcending the limitations of space and time in respect of its subjective
vision, but is also inspired by the conviction that ultimate reality must in
its deepest essence be non-spatial and non-temporal, infinite and eternal.
It is therefore only natural that the problems of space and time should
figure very prominently in all philosophic discussion. Our knowledge
begins with space and time, but it invariably aims at getting beyond the
limits of space and time in its search after the Infinite and the Eternal.
An attempt has been made in the present paper to show that space and time,
viewed in the right perspective, are two inseparably conrected media of
self-expression, as Sri Aurobindo maintains, of the one non-spatial and non-
temporal Spirit (Brahman). A running survey of different representative
philosophical theories about space and time considered in their logical
development will be found to lead on to this grand synthetic position.
There are a number of interesting questions about space and time. How
are space and time related to each other, and how are they related to the
observer? Are space and time finite or are they infinite? Are they discrete or
continuous? How are they related to matter, or else to the most primordial
form of existence, whatever its nature may be? How do the ideas of space
and time originate and develop in the human mind? What is the precise
metaphysical status of space and time? Are they only modes of apprehension,
forms of knowledge, or functions of mental activity? Or else, do they enjoy
an independent objective reality of their own? If space and time be subjective
or unreal, are they entirely so, or is there anything corresponding to them in
the structure of ultimate reality? If space and time be objectively real, how
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
are they precisely related to the ultimate metaphysical principle, the Abso-
lute or the supreme Spirit? Between the non-temporal and non-spatial
status of the Absolute on the one hand, and the objectively real march of
events in space-time on the other, is there not an essential incompatibility?
The psychological question concerning the origin and development of
the notions of space and time in our mind is of no decisive importance in a
metaphysical determination of their nature. An idea may be original for
psychology, but that affords no reason why it should be regarded either as
real or as unreal. Again, simply because an idea is psychologically derived
from simpler elements, one should have no justification for dismissing it
as illusory. If an idea were, as Bradley points out, "a legitimate construction
from elements that were true, then it might be derived only for our know-
ledge, and be original in fact." 1 It requires no extraordinary insight to
realise that the psychological history of an idea can have no definitive bearing
upon its ontological status. Attempts have been made to derive space from
motor experiences or tactuo-muscular sensations, and to derive time from
experiences of successive events, or from the deliverances of perception,
memory and anticipation. But Kant has exploded the naive supposition
that such attempts really amount to a derivation of space and time from
elements which are non-spatial and non-temporal. Experiences of movement
and succession already presuppose the notions of space and time, and can-
not claim to produce them de novo. Genetic theories concerning them are
at best accounts of their psychological development, accounts of their gra-
dual assumption of a distinct and articulate form in the human mind. The
opposite view that space and time are a priori forms of perception the
epistemological prius of objective experience can hardly be accepted as
a final pronouncement upon their intrinsic nature. If space and time be
entirely subjective, how can they be imposed upon an absolutely alien
manifold of intuition which is non-spatial and non-temporal in character?
Why should such a manifold of intuition submit to the arbitrary dictation
of a foreign authority? The core of truth contained in the above view seems
to be that space and time are the most pervasive features of our normal
experience. If we want to determine their ontological status, we must
institute an independent critical examination of their nature as we perceive
them, and we must examine them in their relations to other factors of
experience. The metaphysic of space and time would require a balanced
consideration of their nature in the context of our total experience, the
experience that embraces the mystic's realisation of the non-temporal on
1 "Appearance and Reality", p.s6.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
the one hand, and the ordinary mortal's entanglement in the temporal on
SPACE AND TIME IN MODERN PHYSICS
Recent developments in Physics have made some valuable contributions
to our conception of space and time. Before the discovery of the theory of
Relativity, scientists stood committed to what is known as "the absolute
theory of space and time". Space and time were supposed to be two inde-
pendent variables or disconnected media. Space is one vast medium in
which an endless plurality of material objects exist together. Time is another
vast medium in which an endless procession of events occur in succession.
Space is represented as the absolute locus of all physical objects. Time is
pictorially represented as a stream continuously flowing through all the
points of space taken together. The movement of the stream of time through
all the points of space taken together gives rise to the notion of absolute
simultaneity. The vast extension of space conceived as independent of the
flow of time gives rise to the notion of instantaneous co-existence. These
notions of instantaneous space or co-existence and absolute simultaneity
are essential elements in the absolute theory of space and time. The doctrine
of relativity has however exploded these notions and exhibited them as but
popular fictions. Einstein has demonstrated that events which appear
simultaneous to one observer can very well appear successive to another
observer. To an observer on earth, for example, a shooting star and an
earthquake may seem to be simultaneous, but to an observer in the moon
the phenomenon of the shooting star would appear earlier than the pheno-
menon of earthquake. This shows that time is relative to space, that is,
to the position of the observer in space. Then again, there are no fixed
static positions in space. The portion of space which a man occupies in
the morning is not the same portion of space which he would occupy at
noon, even though he remains all the while shut up within his bedroom.
Tfiis is because the man in question is constantly moving with the earth,
however stationary he may appear to be in relation to his room. Now,
movement in itself is no absolute quantity. The earth is said to be in motion
in relation to the sun and other celestial bodies, just as a running train is
said to be in motion in relation to some portion of the earth. Had there been
absolute motion, that would have implied fixed positions in absolute space,
whatever the practical difficulties in the way of ascertaining such positions.
But can we not think of absolute space, and may it not be possible to obtain
the measurement of absolute motion of a thing by reference to the
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
substance of space, if any? It has really been suggested that there is an eter-
nally fixed and immovable substance pervading the whole of space, namely,
ether, and that absolute motion may be determined in relation to ether.
Motion through ether yes, that would at last give us something absolute.
The famous Michelson-Morley experiment represents the last desperate
attempt to measure the earth's absolute motion through ether. The experi-
ment is unparalleled in the history of scientific measurement in respect
of marvellous precision and ingenious design. But every time the experiment
was carried through it yielded a nul result. Lorentz and Fitzgerald put
forward the hypothesis that every material body contracts in a definite,
degree in the direction of its line of motion. It was by this hypothesis of
contraction that they sought to account for the result of their experiment
in conformity with their faith in an all-pervasive immovable ether in space.
But this was a line of thinking which soon involved the scientist in a laby-
rinth of endless self-contradictions. It required the genius of Einstein to
expose thoroughly the futility of all such desperate search after absolute
motion, and to give the final go-by to the concepts of absolute space and
all-pervasive immovable ether. Einstein demonstrated beyond all shadow
of doubt the epoch-making truth that space is relative to time, and time
is relative to space, and that both space and time are relative to the special
circumstances of the observer. They are however, relative not to the mind
of the observer, but to his body, to the spatio-temporal position which
the observer's body occupies. To quote the words of Whitehead, "It is
the observer's body that we want, and not his mind. Even this body is
only useful as an example of a familiar form of apparatus." 1 The plain
significance of Einstein's theory of relativity is that all physical concepts
including space, time, motion, velocity, mass, energy, etc. are relative
quantities; they are relative to the physical apparatuses of instruments of
measurement. We are, however, concerned at the present moment with
space and time. The chief contribution of the doctrine of relativity may
be put in a word by saying that it substitutes space-time for space and time.
Time is often described as the fourth dimension of space. Better still, it
may be said that according to relativity-Physics the fundamental thing
is one four-dimensional continuum of which space and time are inseparable
aspects. Minkowski points out that though space and time taken separately
are relative, space-time is absolute. Although different observers inhabit
different spaces and times, they all inhabit the same space-time. Different
observers may disagree as to the space separating two particulars, or as to
1 "Science and the Modem World", p. 149.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
the time separating two events, but they all get the same value for the "inter-
val" separating two events. This interval or spatio-temporal distance
between two events is affirmed to be an absolute characteristic of them.
If the universe is regarded as a four-dimensional continuum, then the
spaces and times of different observers are nothing more than different
sections, as it were, of this continuum. The interval, on whose value all
observers are agreed, is split up, owing to their different motions, into
different space and time components. 1
It is a perverse misconception of the theory of relativity to discover in
it scientific corroboration of the subjectivist interpretation of the universe.
In order to guard against misunderstandings of this nature, it has been
suggested that the theory of relativity should be characterised, paradoxical
though it may sound, as the theory of absolutes. Having discarded the
4 'absolutes" of pre-relativity physics, it shows the way how to isolate those
absolute features of the world which are entirely independent of the ob-
server's mind. Einstein has succeeded, as Sullivan points out, "in expressing
the laws of nature in a form which is the same for all observers, whatever
their motions, and whatever their systems of measurement." 2 It has been
seen in the preceding paragraph how the notions of spatial distance and
temporal gap have been replaced in relativity physics by the concept of
spatio-temporal 'interval' which is accepted as an absolute characteristic
of events. But though physical characteristics of events may 'be expressed
in a form which is the same for all observers, that does not entail that they
are intrinsic characteristics of things in themselves. All physical concepts
are in the last analysis relative to physical apparatuses or instruments of
measurement in general. That is why Eddington contends that they are
in the last analysis "schedules of pointer-readings". For a thorough grasp
of the implications of the theory of relativity, one must steer clear of the
opposite extremes of subjectivist construction on the one hand and realistic
exaltation on the other.
THE CURVATURE OF SPACE-TIME
There are some other important truths about space-time which have
been brought out by modern physics. We hear today of the "curvature"
of space-time. Einstein believes space to be governed not by Euclidean
geometry, but by Reimannian geometry. The space-time continuum is
1 "Sullivan's Bases of Modern Science", p. 166.
2 ibid., p. 180.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
said to be a curved continuum, though it may not be uniformly curved
everywhere. There are different degrees of curvature in different parts of
space-time. The curvature of space-time is most prominent around large
masses, for there the gravitational effects are most marked. Gravitational
effects are indeed entirely due to the curvature of space, and must not be
attributed, as Newton did, to any mysterious force of gravity. According
to one school of thought, and this is supported by Einstein, matter is funda-
mental, and it is the presence of matter that causes the curvature of space-
time. Without matter the whole universe would have shrunk to a single
point. But according to a second school of thought, it is the space-time
continuum which is fundamental. The local peculiarities of space-time
manifest themselves to our senses in the form we call matter. Curvature
is not the effect of matter.
SPACE-TIME CONCEIVED AS AN EVER-EXPANDING
The idea of the curvature of space-time brings us to Einstein's theory
of "spherical space." We know that by its regular curvature the earth is
able to close itself, and so avoid any "end" or "edge" of the world. Similar
is the case with the v/hole of space. Just as every straight line that is started
upon the surface of the earth returns upon itself, so also every light-ray
that fares forth into space must eventually return tipon itself. "Just as
the earth contrives in two dimensions to close itself again by regular cur-
vature, so space contrives to avoid any "end of space, and the universe to
enclose a finite content. The diameter of the universe amounts or rather,
at one time amounted to 2000 million light years." 1 Now, space being
spherical, it follows that it is not infinite but rather a "boundless finite".
Space is boundless in as much as it is capable of closing itself and thus
avoiding any end or edge; it is finite because every ray of light that fares
forth in space must eventually return upon itself. The supreme paradox
of modern physics is reached when it is held that the sphere or supersphere
of space is not a stable equilibrium but is ever growing and expanding.
It is an admitted fact of astronomical observation that the spiral nebulae
are unanimously running away from us. Every nebula is indeed fleeing from
every other: And the further they are away from each other, the faster they
travel ! But it is difficult to understand why the nebulae should go tearing
through space at such a terrific rate. The remotest of the nebulae are said
1 "You and the Universe", by Paul Karison, p. 218.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
to increase the distance between us by 16000 miles per hour. Moreover,
if the space is really a closed system, where are the nebulae madly trying
to go? The theory that is advanced today to meet the situation is that
nebulae are not racing through space at all space itself is running away with
them. 1 Just as a soap-bubble or a great toy balloon can grow ever larger
and larger, so also the whole spatio-temporal system is awlays expanding.
But is the concept of a finite expanding universe or space-time structure
comprehensible to our reason? If space is finite, it must be possible to go
out beyond this finite space, and what can we possibly find beyond it except
more space, and so on ad infinitum? which proves that space cannot be
finite. Again if space is expanding, what can it possibly expand into, if not
into more space? which again proves that what is expanding can only be
a part of space, so that the whole of space cannot expand. 2 Considerations
like the above are of crucial importance in determining the precise signi-
ficance of the physical concepts we are dealing with. The aforesaid
objections proceed from the assumption that the universe admits of material
or pictorial representation. They derive their force from the nineteenth-
century way of thinking. Had the concept of a finite and expanding universe
been a faithful pictorial representation of the internal structure of an objective
reality, then the objections would have been simply irrefutable. But, most
of the scientific theories are, it is realised today, no more than conventional
formulae or pragmatic devices. Space-time conceived as finite, curved
and expanding, is, as Jeans puts it, just a mental concept. It is found prag-
matically valid or useful for the explanation of observed phenomena, and
that is the end of the matter. It is by no means to be treated as a sensuous
representation of the nature of the objective world. Nor should it be so
construed as to suggest that modern physics had idealised space-time.
The truth is that modem physics leaves open the metaphysical question
about the intrinsic nature of space-time. The laws of physics are in point
of fact laws about the behaviour of events in space-time, and not expressions
o( the essence of space-time. They do not constitute, nor do they entail,
any idealistic theory of space and time, although an idealistic theory would
not be incompatible with them.
A determination of the type of reality that belongs to space and time
would depend, as we have remarked, upon a critical examination of their
nature in the context of our total experience. It is not possible to enter
here into a detailed consideration of the various arguments that have given
lce You and the Universe", by Paul Karison, p. 227.
2 "The Mysterious Universe", by Sir James Jeans, p.i68. (Pelican Books).
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
logical shape to the different philosophic theories about space and time.
We propose therefore to make, first of all, a rapid survey of the attitudes of
some important schools of thought, and then to indicate the position of Inte-
gral Idealism, the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, in regard to the matter.
SPACE AND TIME AS SUBJECTIVE
Empirical thinkers such as Berkeley, Hume, Mill and others maintain that
space and time are abstract concepts generalised from concrete and parti-
cular experiences. The notion of space is generalised from the ideas of
co-existence derived from tactuo-muscular sensations. The notion of
empty space is a derivative of the sensations of unresisted movement, and
the notion of filled space is a derivative of the sensations of resisted move-
ment. Similarly, the notion of time is generalised from the experiences
of 'before 5 and 'after', the experiences of successive and simultaneous
events. But a little reflection will show that space and time cannot be merely
generalised concepts. Space cannot be a mere generalisation from the
outwardness of things and their movement, because both outwardness and
movement already involve or presuppose the idea of space. Similarly, time
cannot be a mere generalisation from the experiences of simultaneous and
successive events, because the latter type of experience, i.e., apprehension
of events as occurring together or in the order of before and after, already
presupposes the notion of time.
Leibnitz looks upon space as an accident of our confused perception of
the non-spatial objective reality. In his view, the ultimate constituents of
the universe are absolutely non-extended spiritual atoms which he calls
monads. Space is not an objective entity, but just a phenomenal appearance
arising from our confused perception of the co-existence of monads owing
to the inherent limitations of our nature. Now, if there is an endless plura-
lity of monads existing outside of my perception, and existing one outside
of another, that means that there is some sort of objective extension, some
sort of medium for reciprocal exclusion of co-existent objective realities.
And such objective extension or reciprocal extension is indeed the essence
of space. True, we usually associate space with matter. But close reflection
upon the nature of space will reveal that there can hardly be any valid objec-
tion to the reality of non-material space or to a spiritual exclusion of con-
sciousness. It may be said that even though there may be spiritual extension
of consciousness reciprocal exclusion m respect of existence is the distinc-
tive and exclusive characteristic of matter, and cannot belong to the spirit.
But in that case, the whole Leibnitzian theory of a plurality of mutually
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
exclusive and "windowless" monads falls to the ground. We may sum up
the situation as follows. If space is in its essence extension, then it is not
necessarily material, but may quite possibly be in its ultimate truth some
spiritual extension of consciousness. If, however, the essence of space be
not extension, but reciprocal exclusion of existence, as some philosophers
maintain, then the non-spatial spirit cannot be an assemblage of mutually
exclusive units like monads.
SPACE AND TIME AS A PRIORI FORMS OF INTUITION
Kant is the most celebrated exponent of the theory of space and time
as subjective. They are, in his judgment, subjective not in the sense of
being arbitrary, private or illusory. They are subjective in so far as they
have no independent existence of their own apart from human perception.
They cannot be proclaimed to be intrinsic features of reality in itself. They
are regarded by Kant as necessary forms of human perception; they, are,
in Kant's words, a priori forms of intuition. This means that our sensi-
bility is so constituted that we are under the inescapable necessity of per-
ceiving all things in space and time, just as a jaundiced person or a person
with blue spetacles on is under the necessity of perceiving all things as yellow
or blue. That which is immediately given to us or presented to our sensi-
bility is what Kant calls a "manifold of intuition". The manifold of intuition
is first unified in space and time. This unification or initial ordering of the
chaotic mass of sensations is effected by means of space and time so that
they may be further arranged and unified by the categories of the under-
standing. Since space and time are necessary forms of our intuition, and not
arbitrary concepts generalised from sensations, it is but natural that they
should enjoy objective validity so far as human experience extends. They are
public and not private; they may be said to be elements in the framework of
the world of our experience despite the fact that they are subjective. In Kant's
terminology, they are empirically ' real, but transcendentally ideal. Kant's
reasons for regarding space and time as subjective are briefly as follows.
First, space and time cannot be treated as empirical concepts derived
from experiences of outwardness and juxtaposition, and those of
simultaneity and successiveness, because the latter forms of experience
are themselves impossible without the presuppositions of space and
time. Secondly, we can think of space and time as empty of all phenomena,
but we cannot think of phenomena apart from space and time. This
clearly shows that space and time are necessary representations a priori.
Thirdly, space and time are infinite and continuous wholes. Now,
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
since whatever is an object of perception or experience is finite and limited,
they cannot be objects of perception, but must rather be a priori forms of
the act of perception. Infinity is more a function of mental activity than a
datum of mental apprehension. Then again, the relation between the finite
spaces and the one infinite space, or the relation between the finite times
and the one infinite time, is not identically the same as the relation between
component parts and their integral whole, because no amount of addition
of finite terms can produce a genuine infinity. Nor can the relation in ques-
tion be analagous to that between a general concept and its particular instances
because finite spaces and times do not contain infinite space and infinite time, ,
and cannot therefore be regarded as their particular exemplifications. So space
and time, infinite and unlimited wholes that they are, can be posited only
as modes of apprehension or as functions of the faculty of sensibility, and
not as objects of perception. Fourthly, it is only if space and time be a
priori forms of intuition that the truths of geometry, which deals with the
properties of space, and the truths of arithmetic which deals with the pro-
perties of time, or of number which arises from successive movements in
time, can be universal and necessary. Had space and time been objects of
perception, the truths of geometry and arithmetic would have been contin-
gent and probable only.
The foundations of Kant's arguments for the subjectivity of space and
time have however been rudely shaken by the remarkable advance of scien-
tific knowledge in the subsequent period. With regard to Kant's first argu-
ment it is now pointed out that we can apprehend sense-data along with
spatial and temporal characters. Perception of extended surfaces and
enduring events does not, it is now argued, presuppose the notions of infinite
space and infinite time functioning as antecedent media. The latter can
very well be exhibited as constructions obtained by the unconscious correla-
tion of perceptual spaces and times which are all finite. The second Kantian
argument has been refuted by a flat contradiction of the facts of experience
to which it makes an appeal. Kant says that we can think of space or
extension as empty of all sensible objects or as eviscerated of all secondary
qualities. But modern psychology points out that extension without some
sensuous content which is extended is a psychological monstrosity. Ex-
tension cannot be thought of, says Bradley, "without thinking at the same
time of a 'what' that is extended. And not only is this so, but particular
differences, such as 'up and down', 'right and left', are necessary to the
terms of the spatial relation. But these differences clearly are not merely
spatial." 1 When we visualise space, we must think of it as coloured; when
1 "Appearance and Reality", p. 17.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
we try to feel space we cannot separate it from tactuo-muscular sensations.
Some psychologists even go to the length of asserting that extension is
nothing but a growth or construction from wholly non-extended secondary
qualities, though that is perhaps going too far in the opposite direction. In
regard to Kant's third argument, it has been maintained that infinite space
and infinite r'me are neither wholes composed of finite spaces and finite
times, not empirical concepts generalised from them, but logical constructions
built out of the latter. In regard to Kant's fourth argument, it is held that
the apodictic certainty which appears to characterise the truths of geometry
and arithmetic is due to the fact that the absolute simplicity of mathematical
phenomena admits of the undiluted application of the deductive method.
The truths of geometry and arithmetic are universal and necessary only
because they are analytical deductions from certain fundamental assump-
tions. But the discovery of different kinds of non-Euclidean geometry has
today clearly brought into relief the conventional character of the funda-
mental premises of even mathematical sciences. Such premises are not
really axioms, but postulates: they are pragmatically useful, and relative
to the standpoints and purposes of special sciences.
SPACE AND TIME AS MODES OF MULTIPLICATION
Before taking up a review of the objectivist theories of space and time,
let us see what further developments Kant's doctrine of the subjectivity
of space and time did undergo. Gentile agrees with Kant that space and
time are a priori forms of perception, but such forms of perception are to
be understood in Gentile's opinion, not as static moulds, but as active
functions of the mind. Gentile lays indeed the greatest emphasis upon
their character as functions or spiritual acts. In his view, there can be no
multiplicity apart from the multiplying activity of the mind. "It is the
mind's spatialising activity", says Gentile, "which generates multiplicity.
It s does not presuppose it. Multiplication is the concrete reality which
gives place to multiplicity. It is only abstractly that multiplicity can be
thought of as something which subsists, withdrawn from the movement
which belongs to, and is, the presupposition of thought." 1 Space and
time which appear as forms of multiplicity are in their essence modes of
multiplication which is a mental act. From this it follows that the reality
of space is spatialisation, and the reality of time is temporalization. Now,
if space and time be modes of multiplication, there can be no manifold of
1 "The Theory of Mind as Pure Act", p. 124.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
intuition, as Kant supposes, antecedent to the spatialising and temporali-
zing activity of the mind. Absolute multiplicity is the character of the
positive in so far as it is posited, and the multiple posnive is posited by
the multiplying act of the mind.
If we reflect upon the nature of space, we find that its essence lies in
reciprocal exclusion of all the terms of actual or possible experience. Exactly
the same is also true of the essential nature of time. So Gentile holds that
time may be described as "the spatialization of the unity of space". 1 It
is the multiplication of a point of space or of the totality of space in another
dimension. Kant insists on the unifying and order-imposing function of
space and time, because he presupposes the manifold of intuition as an
antecedent datum. But Gentile contends that they are not so much in the
nature of order and synthesis as in the nature of differentiation and
multiplication. While the multiple points of space are characterised
by co-existence, the multiple instants of time are characterised by
compresence. Co-existence is convergence of all the points of space in
a point which is outside them all, and which is, in consequence, the
negation of their multiplicity. It is this transcendental point (i.e., the
transcendental ego) which is the intelligibility of space. Similarly, com-
presence is the convergence of all the moments of time, past, present, and
future, in a present which is not the present situated between a past and a
future, but is rather the negation of all multiplicity and successiveness.
It is the transcendental or eternal present, on which all the rays of time
converge and from which all irradiate, that is the intelligibility of time.
Thus space and time are intelligible only as modes of activity of a non-
spatial and non-temporal principle of consciousness.
Gentile utters no doubt a profound truth when he says that space and
time are unintelligible except as modes of activity of a transcendental
principle of consciousness. But he seenis to us definitely mistaken in
identifying that principle of consciousness with the mental act. The mind
as we know it is a power of ignorance groping towards knowledge, and is
not the ultimate creative principle. Space and time conceived as principles
of division or reciprocal exclusion are indeed correlative to the mind, but
the same is not true when they are viewed in their essential character.
Space-time is in its deepest essence an extensive continuum, a self-extension
of the dynamic spirit, an objective medium for the unfoldment of the
infinite possibilities inherent in it. It is a grievous mistake to assume, as
Gentile does assume, that all multiplicity must necessarily be reciprocally
1 "The Theory of Mind as Pure Act", p. 118.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
exclusive. Mystics testify to the reality of interpenetrating multiplicity in
some spiritual extension; different souls are in their view closely bound
together by a bond of mutuality rooted in essential identity. Bradley and
Bergson affirm the existence of undifferentiated diversity; the former posits
it in immediate experience, and the latter glimpses it in the creative flow
of time. Such interpenetrating diversities are surely objectively real apart
from mental activity. Space-time, spiritual self-extension that it is in its
essential character, is the medium of such interpenetrating multiplicity
SPACE AND TIME AS OBJECTIVE
The popular attitude in regard to space and time is embodied in what is
known as the receptacle theory. Space is popularly imagined as a
vast endless receptacle in which material objects exist; time is imagined as a
vast beginningless and endless receptacle in which events occur. The
implications of the receptacle theory are followed out to their logical extreme
by the great physicist Newton who emphasises the absoluteness of space and
time as receptacles. According to Newton's absolute theory, portions of
space and time are as actual as anything else, and they are 'occupied' by
other actualities such as particles of matter. The order and interrelations of
the moments of time as well as the order and interrelations of the points of
space are eternally fixed. Absolute time, of itself, and from its absolute
nature, flows equably without regard to anything external. It is to be sharply
distinguished from the relative, apparent and common time which is some
sensible and external measure of duration by means of motion such as an
hour, a day, a month, a year. Similarly, absolute space, in its own nature and
without regard to anything external, remains always similar and immovable.
It is to be sharply distinguished from the relative and apparent space which
is some movable dimension or measure of the absolute space, and which our
senses can determine with reference to material objects. It follows from the
absolute theory as sketched above that both space and time may be empty,
i.e., they may exist as eviscerated of all objects and happenings.
THE ADJECTIVAL THEORY
It was Descartes who first impugned the receptacle theory of space and
time. He repudiated the view that space and time are receptacles or sub-
stantial media such as can exist in themselves. He reduced space to an attri-
bute of matter. Space is in his view extension, and that which is extended
is matter, which means that space is an essential attribute of matter. By
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
reason of analogous considerations, it may be held that the essence of time
is duration, and that duration is a character of events that endure. Since in
Descarte's opinion space is an essential attribute of matter, it follows that
there can be no empty space, and no non-extended material particle or indi-
visible atom. Spinoza supports Descartes in his view that space is an attribute.
But Spinoza maintains that space is an attribute, not of matter, but of one
infinite substance which people call God. Substantiality, the essence of which
lies in independence of being, can strictly speaking belong to nothing short
of the one infinite and all-comprehensive creative principle. Matter is not
therefore an independent substance of which space is an essential attribute,
it is rather a modification of space. Material objects are modes of infinite
extension, or of God in so far as He is extended.
TIME AS THE SUPREME CREATIVE PRINCIPLE
While Spinoza holds that all material objects are modes of space or exten-
sion, Bergson contends that all the objects of our experience are deposits of
the movement of time. For Spinoza, space is something basic, it is some sort
of stuff, a view from which, as we shall see later on, Alexander takes his
clue, though space conceived as a stuff is undoubtedly in his opinion an
attribute of one infinite substance. For Bergson it is time which is funda-
mental, and all phenomena are precipitated within the flux of time. Time is
not only objectively and independently real, it is the one ultimately real
creative principle. And this time, the essence of which is duration and free
creation, is to be conceived as absolutely free from spatiality. Bergson agrees
with Gentile that reciprocal exclusion of the elements of the manifold is of
the essence of space. Space which is thus envisaged as a principle of reci-
procal exclusion is a shadow of the intellect; it is said to be correlative to our
thought which is weighted with geometry. Bergson disagrees with Gentile
with regard to the nature of multiplicity. While, according to Gentile,, all
objective multiplicity is necessarily mutually exclusive and spatial, according
to Bergson, there may be non-spatial multiplicity. Time is, in Bergson's
view, an interfused and interpenetrating multiplicity involved in one creative
urge; it is an indivisible creative act or movement. It is our intellectual
habit of employing spatial metaphors that prevents an undistorted vision of
the nature of time. That same habit is responsible for our conception of
physical space-time or of equable and homogeneous mathematical time.
The intellect, by virtue of its cinematographic mechanism, finds it practically
necessary or useful to take static snapshot views of the continuous mobility
of time. These immobile snapshots are then placed in juxtaposition in space,
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
It is thus the pragmatic functioning of the intellect which gives rise to the
notions of mathematical time and physical space. But it should be evident to
all that mathematical time and physical space must be as real or as unreal as
the intellectual snapshots of which they function as the objective locus.
By stressing the importance of time Bergson brings to light the reality
of absolutely free creation, and by disparaging the concept of static space
he affirms the reality of interpenetrating plurality. And both these unfet-
tered creativity and non-exclusive plurality are undoubtedly very
deep features of reality. But that surely gives no warrant for enthroning time
as the Ultimate of philosophy, as Bergsoa does. To take time as the supreme
creative principle is to embrace the miracle of absolute novelties emerging
from absolute non-being. The presence of genuine change and free creation
in the world can very well be explained as a real self-manifestation in the
temporal order of an unmanifcst Eternal endowed with a free will. Similarly,
the existence of non-exclusive menifoldness is proof positive of some kind of
spiritual extension corresponding to the phenomenal space of division. On
such a view, neither space nor time would be a mere phenomenon having
no objective counterpart in ultimate reality. Both of them would rather be
phenomena bene fundata, in so far as they would be expressions, at our human
level, of the self-extension and objective self-unfoldment of the fundamental
THE RELATIONAL THEORY OF SPACE AND TIME
Russell maintains that time, far from being the supreme creative principle,
is in some sense an unimportant and superficial characteristic of the real.
He acknowledges no doubt the reality of time, the reality of the past and the
future as also of the present, but still a certain emancipation from slavery to
time is, in his opinion, essential to philosophic thought. "Both in thought
and in feeling", says Russell, "to realise the unimportance of time is the
g&te of wisodm". 1 Russell is a chief exponent of the relational theory of
space and time. There is, in his judgement, no reason to postulate such
mysterious metaphysical entities as "points" and "instants" apart from
sense-data. There are spatial relations such as "above", "below", "near",
"distant," etc. and temporal relations such as "simultaneous", "earlier and
later", etc. obtaining amongst various sciisc-data. These spatio-temporal
relations are perceived along with sense-data, and can by no means be
regarded as features contributed by our mental subjective apparatus. They
1 "Our Knowledge of the External World", p. 166-7.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
are as much immediately given to us as sense-data are. Points and instants
which are ultimate constituents in the absolute theory of space-time are
but logical functions constructed of our sense-data and other structurally
analogous particulars. A c 'point " for example has been defined as a set of
spatial objects or "volumes which would naturally be said to contain the
point"; and an instant has been defined as "a group of events simultaneous
with each other and not all simultaneous with any event outside the group". 1
The space and time of physics i.e., the one all-embracing space and the
one all-embracing time, are also no better than, logical constructions. They
are logical functions of private spaces and private times. In the very begin-
ning, we have the space of sight, the space of touch, and the spaces of other
senses. These are without difficulty correlated into one private space such
as embraces all sense-data, and each person, so far as his sense-data are
concerned, lives in a private world characterised by his own private space.
The place at which a sense-datum is is a place in private space. This place
is therefore different from any place in the private space of another perci-
pient. Now, the multiplicity of private spaces directly experienced by
different persons are correlated into one all-embracing space by means of
the correlated "sensibilia" which are normally regarded as the appearances,
in different perspectives, of one and the same thing. This one space is
called by Russell "perspective-space", in which one whole private world
counts as a point, or at least as a spatial unit. Each private world may be
regarded as the appearance which the universe presents from a certain
point of view. Since perspective-space is a three-dimensional series of
perspectives each of which is itself three-dimensional, it is natural that
perspective-space should be a space of six dimensions. But we notice
correlations between the perspective space and the various private spaces
contained within the various perspectives severally. It is on the basis of
such correlations that perspective space is constructed by physics as one
three-dimensional whole, Russell says that 'it is because of the unconscious
performance of this correlation that the distinction between perspective
space and the percipient's private space has been blurred, with disastrous
results for the philosophy of physics'. 2 Similarly, the one all-embracing
time is, in his view, a construction from private times. Between two pers-
pectives which both belong to one person's experience there will be a direct
time-relation of before and after. This gives us the time that belongs to
a private biography, which is a series of events earlier or later than, or
Knowledge of the External World", p. 155.
2 "Mysticism and Logic", p. 162.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
simultaneous with, a given sensible. It is by correlating the times in different
biographies by means of correlated events that one all-embracing time is
constructed. Relativity physics has shown that time functions as an essential
factor in the construction of one space, and also that space functions as an
essential factor in the construction of one time.
THE EPOCHAL THEORY OF TIME
Like Russell, Whitehead also subscribes to the relational theory of space
and time. According to Whitehead, the fundamental fact is the passing
of nature, its development, its creative advance. "Actual entities", "actual
occasions", or "events", which are involved in the creative advance of
Nature, are also extensive one in relation to another. Time and space ori-
ginate as abstractions from these two basic facts, namely, the passage of
events and the extension of events over each other. Space, however, differen-
tiates itself from time, in Whitehead's opinion, at a somewhat developed
stage of the abstractive process. Space and time are not, of course, abstrac-
tions in the sense that they do not express real facts for us. When White-
head calls them abstractions, he means to assert that there are no spatial
facts or temporal facts or even spatio-temporal facts apart from physical
nature. Space and time are, in his opinion, merely ways of expressing
cettain truths about the relations between events. Moreover, what we
mean by space or time under one set of circumstances is not what we mean
by space or time under another set of circumstances. 1 The fundamental
and more general scheme of relations of which space and time are speciali-
sations is what Whitehead calls "the extensive continuum". This extensive
continuum is not a fact prior to the world; it is the first determination of
order that is, of real potentiality arising out of the genral character of
the world. 2 This continuum is itself the mere potentiality for division
or atomizatton, because, according to Whitehead, while continuity is a
feature of potentiality, actuality is incurably atomic. It is therefore actual
entities which atomize or divide the extensive continuum. In respect to
space, this atomization means that every actual entity in the temporal world
is to be credited with a spatial volume for its perspective standpoint. In
respect to time, this atomization takes the special form of "the epochal
theory of time'*. Time is, in Whitehead's view, atomic, i.e. it is sheer succes-
sion of epochal durations. The "duration" is the observational present
1 "Concept of Nature", p. 162.
1 "Process and Reality/' p. 92.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
i.e. the whole of nature apprehended in one immediate observation. Nature
as extended is simultaneous but not instantaneous; it includes passage of
events, it embraces antecedents and consequents. The divisibility and
extensiveness falls within the given duration. "The epochal duration is
not realised via its successive divisible parts, but is given with its parts".
Time viewed as succession of epochal durations is not to be conceived as
another form of extensiveness. Such time has been separated from 'exten-
sion 9 and from the divisibility which arises from the character of spatio-
temporal of extension. 1 The essence of epochal time is realisation. Every
epochal whole is the realisation of some pattern in events. The temporal
process of realisation is not necessarily one single series of linear succession,
but can be analysed into a group of linear serial processes. Each of these
linear series is a space-time system. 2
SPACE AND TIME AS RELATIVE, BUT NOT RELATIONAL
Professor Alexander, who is in dead earnest with the reality of space and
time, repudiates the relational theory as expounded by Russell and White-
head. Space and time are v/ithout doubt relative to each other, but still,
in his opinion, they can hardly be treated as relational schemes abstracted
from a concrete stuff of sense-data or actual occasions of experience. Nor
is space-time a form of matter, as Einstein suggests. Alexander is emphatic
in his assertion that space-time is the fundamental stuff of all things; it
is, in his picturesque pharaseology, "the matrix of all existence and the
nurse of all becoming." Space-Time is the fundamental stuff, not of course
in the traditional sense of substance, but in so far as it is the world in its
simplest form of expression; it is the primordial form of existence within
which all empirical things are differentiated as finite complexes of motion.
An empirical thing, say an orange or even a patch of colour, not only occu-
pies a definite portion of space-time, but is itself extended and enduring.
Space-time may be said to penetrate into its very essence and being. So,
the question is forced into our mind. What would be the relation between
the spatio-temporal essence of a thing and the portion of space-time which
it externally occupies? A very embarrassing question this! Alexander
holds that the relation between space-time and empirical existents is not,
to be sure, an external one. Taking his clue from Spinoza, he maintains
that all material objects are modes of space or extension, or, to be more
1 "Science and the Modern World", Chap. VII.
2 ibid., p. 156.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
accurate and in keeping with modern ways of thinking, they are spatio-tem-
poral configurations differentiated by some empirical emergent quality.
Material objects are believed in the last analysis to be complexes of motion
deposited within one all-comprehensive system of motion. But the authority
of Spinoza can, it seems to us, hardly be quoted in support of Alexander's
view in the matter. Material things are believed by Spinoza to be modes
not of space or extension as such not of extension conceived as an inde-
pendent stuff but of extension qua an attribute of God. In other words,
material objects are believed to be modes of one infinite substance, God,
in so far as He is extended. God qua extended is one infinite and universal
matter, and finite material things are in Spinoza's view modifications of
that material stuff. Indeed the more one reflects upon, the essential nature
of space and time, the more is one sure to be convinced that space-time
can be conceived neither as an empty medium nor as an independent stuff.
Space and time essentially presuppose some concrete reality, as Russell
and Whitehead contend. Space or extension presupposes a 'what' that is
extended, and time or duration presupposes a 'what' that endures. They
are in their deepest essence modes of self-extension of ultimate reality.
Alexander is right when he says that the world is in its simplest expression
space-time, but he turns a blind eye to the supreme truth that the world
in its simplest expression means ultimate reality in its earliest self-manifesta-
tion. Space and time may appear as the fundamental stuff in relation to
the infinite diversity of empirical objects, but in their inmost essense they
are modes of self-extension of the supreme reality.
With regard to the relation between space and time Alexander clanns to
go much deeper than the doctrine of relativity. He maintains that the rela-
tion in question i? much more intimate than is supposed in relativity physics.
Einstein, Minkowski and others hold that time is a fourth additional dimen-
sion of space. In other words, every point has four co-ordinates, the time
co-ordinate being the fourth. Time as an additional dimension is treated
as a further order in which three-dimensional spaces are arranged. But
Alexander says that though the above view may be a useful means of mathe-
matical manipulation, or a legitimate way of mathematical representation
of the nature of space and time, the relation between them, as empirically
revealed to our inspection, is much closer and much more intimate still.
He points out that time does with its one-dimensional order cover and
embrace the three dimensions of space, and is not additional to them. "It
is not a fourth dimension in the universe, but repeats the other three". 1
1 "Space, Time and Deity", Vol. I, p. 59.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
Metaphorically speaking. Time is the soul of Space x and Space is the body
of Time. Space, even in order to be space, must be temporal. Similarly,
time, even in order to be time, must be spatial. But how? Let us briefly
consider how Alexander shows space and time to be vital one to the very
existence of the other.
Time as experienced by us is succession in duration. It is a one-dimen-
sional continuous series of successive instants or durations. Now it is space
which supplies the element of continuity to time. Apart from space, time
would have been reduced to a series of perishing moments. Not only that.
In the absence of such a bond of connection as is supplied by space, time
would shrink to a bare now, a now which was perpetually being renewed,
a now, which had neither an earlier nor a later moment. It is the continuum
of space which makes the moments of time into a continuous series. Simi-
larly, looking at space it is found thai space as experienced by us is a conti-
nuous whole of distinguishable positions. Now, H is time which supplies
space with its element of differentiation. It is by a temporal process of
movement that one position is distinguished from another position in space.
So space is said to be full of time, and different points are said to exist
in different instants, just as different instants occur at different points.
Apart from time, space would sink into a blank continuum. As Alexander
puts it, "without space there would be no connection in Time. Without
Time there would be no points to connect." 1 But even this is not quite
sufficient to convey a full idea of the kind of intimacy that characterises
the relation between Space and Time. Space and Time are not only vital
each to the existence of the other. The empirical characteristics of time
exactly correspond to the dimensions of space, and the dimensions of space
exactly correspond to the empirical characteristics of time. There are three
empirical characteristics of time such as successiveness, irreversibility, and
uniform direction. In so far as time is irreversible in direction, the moments
of time form an asymmetrical series, which means that an instant which is
before another cannot be after it. In so far as time is uniform in direction,
the moments of time form a transitive series, which means that if an instant
A is before an instant B and B before an instant C, then A is before C.
Alexander takes great pains to show that the characteristics of time as a
transitive asymmetrical series of succession owe themselves to the fact that
space has three dimensions, and conversely that space has three dimensions
because time is succesive, irreversible, and uniform in direction. Consi-
dered apart from time, the three dimensions of space are independent of
1 "Space, Time and Deity", Vol. I, p. 44.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
one another. "To say that space is a three-dimensional form of externality
is the same thing as to say there are three independent one-dimensional
forms of externality." 1 Space is a unity of three dimensions because of the
three empirical features of time.
It must be admitted that Alexander has brought to light some very impor-
tant truths about the relationship between space and time. But howsoever
vital to each other they might be, they can by no means be posited as the
concrete and ultimate stuff of existence. Space and time may be inseparable
and interlocked aspects of one infinite and continuous whole, but with all
that they are in the last analysis no better than abstractions from a more
concrete reality. As we have already remarked, even though space-time may
be the world in its simplest expression, yet viewed from the ultimate stand-
point, it is the earliest self-manifestation of a much deeper reality. Even
though it may appear to be the basic stuff when viewed from the empirical
standpoint, it is a medium for self-manifestation of some infinitely rich and
concrete reality when viewed from the transcendental standpoint. Space-
time is in its essence an extensive continuum. But extension is inconceiv-
able without some reality that is extended. Of what then is space-time an
extension? If ultimate reality is, as integral spiritual experience and philo-
sophic speculation combine to testify, one ineffable spirit, endowed with a
truth-consciousness and an absolutely free will, then space-time must be
the self-extension of that Spirit for the unfoldment of the infinite possibi-
lities inherent therein.
SPACE AND TIME AS BOTH SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE
To a balanced judgement, the view that space and time are objective
entities independent of consciousness is likely to appear an opposite extreme
to the view that they are merely subjective modes of apprehension. The
conflict between the subjectivist and objectivist theories regarding space
and time leads by an immanent dialectic to the emergence of a synthetic
standpoint which seeks to reconcile the two extreme positions, and maintains
that space and time are at once subjective and objective. Hegel agrees with
Kant that space and time are a priori forms of sensous intuition, but he
goes a step further and holds that they are also elements in the framework
of external nature. This is because the finite percipients are in essence repro-
ductions of the same absolute Spirit of which external Nature is an objective
self-manifestation. The same Absolute manifests itself in and through
, Time and Deity ", Vol. I, p. 51.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
finite spirits, and also externalises or objectifies itself in and through space
and time. It is the unity of Mind and Nature in the Absolute which guarantees
the synthetic character of space and time as at once a priori forms of intui-
tion and primordial features of the realm of externality. Space and time are
features of the realm of externality in so far as they are the basic forms of
self-externalisation of the Absolute. Now, implicit in the assertion that
space and time are objective as well as subjective is the implication that
Reality is at once a Unity and a co-existent Plurality, at once an eternally
self-reaHsed Fact and an eternally self-realising Act or Process. To admit
sincerely the objective reality of space and time is tantamount to the admis-
sion of an element of manifoldness and also an element of dynamic will or
creative urge in the heart of ultimate reality.
It is, however, extremely difficult to reconcile the two terms of the anti-
thesis. How can that which is a Unity can at the same time be a co-existent
Plurality? Then again, how can an eternally self-accomplished Fact be at
the same time a self-realising Process? Space and time, taken even in their
deepest spiritual signification^ seem to contradict the very essence of the
Absolute Spirit. That is why we find that those who take space seriously
have a tendency towards materialism and pluralism and those who take time
seriously show a marked tendency towards evolutionism. Those on the
contrary who profess loyalty to the Absolute Spirit generally turn out advo-
cates of a "block-universe", or of a blank featureless principle of unity.
Hegel recognises the necessity of reconciling plurality with unity, and process
with reality, but he does not quite succeed in unravelling the mystery of
their reconcilation. Among the followers of Hegel those who take seriously
one term of the antithesis are unconsciously led to compromise the
reality and minimise the importance of the other term. Bradley, for example,
takes seriously the aspects of unity and eternity of the supreme Reality, and
we find, in consequence, that he proceeds to exhibit space and time as incom-
prehensible appearances. True, when Bradley calls space and time appear-
ances, he does not mean to relegate them to the sphere of the purely subjec-
tive. Space and time are, in hi sview, appearances in the sense that they are
not ultimately real, and in the sense that they are in the nature of abstractions
from the concrete fullness of experience. Bradley's reason for this view is
that they are found to be shot through and through with logical contradic-
tions when they are submitted to philosophical scrutiny. They are discrete
and yet continuous. They evidently come to us as relations between some
units or ultimate constituents. Now, if these units be non-spatial or non-
temporal, relational schemes involving such units cannot be space and time.
If, on the contrary, these units be spatial and temporal, then they must
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
dissolve into relations between smaller terms, which again would dissolve
into further relations, and so on ad infinitum. This shows that space and
time are not ultimately real But still they are real in so far as they fall within
the Absolute^ and function as elements in the permanent structure of reality.
In taking their place in the Absolute in conjunction with other factors of
experience, they are, to be sure, substantially modified and transformed
beyond recognition. They are somehow preserved in reality, but precisely
how and in what shape they are preserved is more than Bradley can tell us.
It is thus evident that what space and time are in their intrinsic essence
Bradley cannot tell. Now, can he show any organic relation of space and
time to the Absolute? Space and time as we know them are, in his view,
unreal abstractions or self-contradictory appearances, incomprehensible as
to how they appear,and incomprehensible also as to how they disappear into
Reality. But such a view is, to say the least, anything but satisfactory. It
provides no indication as to the sort of thing that constitutes the real essence
of space and time. Unless we get an idea of the objective counterpart in reality
of the appearances of space and time, and also an idea as to their raison
d'etre in the world of manifestation, we can hardly feel inclined to accept
them as real appearances i.e., as both subjective and objective.
In McTaggart's philosophy we find that a serious attempt is made to
demonstrate the synthetic character of space and time as both subjective and
objective. He calls them phenomena bene fundata in as much as they are not
mere phenomena in Kant's sense of the term, but are such phenomena as
correspond to some indisputable features of ultimate reality. Space is cha-
racterised by co-existence of a plurality of reciprocally exclusive parts and
by infinite divisibility of these parts. Now, the features of co-existence,
reciprocal exclusion, and infinite divisibility are ultimately real, because
according to McTaggart reality consists of an impersonal unity of a plurality
self-subsistent spiritual substances or selves, which are mutually exclusive
in respect of their existence. The nature of each of these self-subsistent
selves is infinitely divisible, the terms in the process of such division being
perceptions of other selves and their perceptions. What is erroneous or
illusory about space is its appearance as an attribute of matter or as locus
of the existence of matter. McTaggart advances an array of close-knit
arguments to demonstrate the unreality of matter. l The central point in
his reasoning is that in the case of an unconscious substance like matter
infinite divisibility involves self-contradiction in so far as every material
object is composed of parts, and yet there are no parts of which it is composed,
lcc The Nature of Existence", Vol. II, Chap. XXXIV.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
because every part is composed of further parts. The same is not however
true of the conscious self, because though such a self contains perceptions
within perceptions ad infintium, yet such a series of perceptions are all deter-
mined by the nature of different selves which are related to each other in
Like space, time also is a phenomenon bene fundatnm. The phenomenon
of time is a transitive asymmetrical series of successive moments. According
to McTaggart, the character of time as a transitive asymmetrical series must
be admitted to be ultimately real. Corresponding to the distinctions of earlier
and later, there exist in reality distinctions of being included and being -
inclusive. Earlier perceptions are included in perceptions which appear to
come later. Such an enclosure series of perceptions is also governed by tran-
sitive and asymmetrical relations. But though time is objectively real in so far
as its serial character is concerned., it is entirely subjective in respect of its
successiveness. McTaggart adduces a unique set of considerations to demon-
strate the illusory character of time as succession. x Succession is, he points
out, entirey meaningless apart from change. When terms are arranged as
earlier and later in serial form, they do not admit of any change whatsoever.
If, for example, A is earlier than B, then it is eternally earlier than B, there
being no room for any change in this relationship. Deprived of changeable-
ness, distinctions of earlier and later lose their temporal significance. But
the series of terms arranged as earlier and later is in fact what it is only because
it presents another aspect or is indissolubly bound up with another series,
the series of terms arranged as past, present and future. It is the properties
of being past, present and future which are constantly changing. Every
event is first future in relation to some present, it then becomes present,
and finally it is relegated to the past, first to the immediate past, and gradually
more and more to the remote past. Apart from the fact that the members
of the scries 'past-present-future' presuppose their relation to something
which is placed outside the whole series, almost every member possesses
the properties of past, present and future which are quite incompatible
determinations. It is this possession of self-contradictory properties which
makes the time series unreal. It would be unavailing to say that an event is
past, present and future not at the same time, but that it was future it is
present, and it will be past. This means that the event was future at some
past moment, it is present at some moment of present, and it will be past
at some future moment. In other words, in order to escape contradiction
an event must be said to be past, present and future only at moments specified
1 "The Nature of Existence", Vol. II, p. 9-29.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
as future, present and past. But the moments future, present and past would
again require, in order to avoid contradiction, other moments specified
as past, present and future, and so on ad infinitum. Thus the contradiction
is never avoided; it penetrates the very essence of the time series, and reveals
it in its illusory character.
We may observe here by way of criticism that while McTaggart goes
too far in his vindiction of the objective reality of space, his theory of time
amounts to its reduction to a mere illusion, all his assertions to the contrary
nonwithstanding. He rejects space as an attribute or locus of matter,
because, an uncompromising critic of materialism that he is, nothing material
can find favour with him. But he accepts as ultimately real all such
phenomenal characteristics of space as infinite divisiblity, co-existence of
plurality and reciprocal exclusion of being. His conception of reality as a
plurality of eternally self-subsistent selves is the outcome of this acceptance.
With regard to time, however, he spares no pains to repudiate its very
distinctive essence of successiveness. Succession is, in his view, a shadow
of misperception. The reality behind it is an eternally fixed transitive
asymmetrical series of perceptions related to each other as included and
inclusive. McTaggart's theory of time thus exemplifies the notion of the
'block-universe' in its most undiluted form.
McTaggart's chief argument to prove the unreality of time is that the
subjective distinctions of past, present and future are vital to the time
series, and that the distinctions of earlier and later are meaningless apart
from them. But it requires no extraordinary insight to see that events are
capable of changing in a variety of ways, and that they may change in such
a way as to make the distinctions of earlier and later objectively and inde-
pendently valid. Professor Eddington suggests that the one-way charac-
ter of time or its successiveness in an irreversible direction arises from the
fact that the universe is, as the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies,
increasingly running down. According to this Law, the random element
or entropy is always increasing in the universe, and it can never decrease.
It is the gradual increase of entropy or complexity of organisation which
imparts to time its one-way character. As Eddington puts it, "So far as
physics is concerned, time's arrow is a property of entropy alone." 1 Dis-
tinctions of earlier and later can then very well be understood to have their
objective basis in entropy which is the practical measure of the increasing
random element in the universe. This is, however, so far as science can
go by way of affirming the objective validity of the irreversible successive-
1 "The Nature of the Physical World", p. 86.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
ness of time. But there are also philosophically more satisfactory means of
vindicating this irreversible successiveness. Henri Bergson holds that it
is free or unfettered creation which cosntitutes the essence of time. Genuine
creation implies continual emergence of unique forms and fresh novelties.
Distinctions of earlier and later presuppose such a process of creative
advance. Dr. Broad has formulated his theory of time on closely similar lines.
Says Broad, "The sumtotal of existence is always increasing, and it is this
which gives the time-series a sense as well as an order. A moment t is
later than a moment t 1 if the sumtotal of existence at t includes the sumtotal
of existence at t 1 together with something more.' 51 There is thus little
warrant for McTaggart's assertion that time is incomprehensible except
with reference to the subjective distinctions of past, present and future.
There is without doubt genuine change in the objective world apart from
the succession of our perceptions; there is in other words objective succes-
sion in addition to subjective succession. That which can reasonably be
disputed is the precise nature of the objectively real change. Consistently
with his view of the nature of ultimate reality, Sri Aurobiudo holds that
objective change is in the nature of progressive self-manifestation of the
Spirit or its gradual unfoldment in self-created media. Bergson' s theory
of absolutely novel creation, and Broad's theory of continual increase of
the sumtotal of existence, are true only as characteristics of the world of
manifestation, and not of ultimate reality. The fundamental import of
objective change is the progressive enrichment of the world of manifestation.
That there is objectively real change nobody can seriously dispute wihtout
running into self-contradictions or flying in the face of obvious facts. And
it is objectively real change which functions as the basis of our notion of
time. Time conceived as a transitive asymmetrical series of successive moments
(i.e., an irreversible order of successive instants) is an abstraction from the
concrete change or creative advance of Nature. McTaggart embarks upon
an examination of the nature of time with this initial assumption that the
moments of time, in order to be temporal, must be capable of changing in
respect of their qualities or relations. He finds on examination that the
moments of time can change only in respect of being past, present and
future. But this is obviously beginning at the wrong end, and starting
with unwarrantable assumptions. The conception of a time series of
discrete moments with which McTaggart starts is undoubtedly a
product of highgrade abstraction, extracted from the concrete flux of
1 "Scientific Thought", p. 66.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
SPACE-TIME AS SELF-EXTENSION OF THE SPIRIT
It should be abundantly clear from the foregoing discussion that according
to the Integral Idealism of Sri Aurobindo the fundamental reality of space-
time is spiritual self-extension of ultimate reality. Reality is, in its original
status and intrinsic nature, the spaceless and timeless Spirit. Space and time
are the same Reality self-extended to contain the deployment of what is
within it. 1 Now, the self-extension of the infinite and eternal Spirit must
be infinite and eternal too. So it may be said that the fundamental truth of
space is the infinity of the Infinite, whereas the fundamental truth of time
is the eternity of the Eternal. 2 This doctrine of the spiritual essence of
space-time would not in the least be affected by the diversity of interpre-
tation that might be placed upon the spacific relationship between space
and time. The spiritual theory of space and time may primarily be under-
stood to mean that Space is Brahman as self-extended status, and Time is
Brahman as self-extended movement. This implies that Space is a static
extension *n which all things stand or move together in a fixed order, and
Time is a mobile extension which is measured by movement and flux of
events. But such a construction would be based upon our prima facie
inaccurate impressions about space and time. The truth perhaps is that
Space is Brahman as self-extended for the holding together of forms and
objects, and Time is Brahman as self-extended for the deployment of the
movement of self-power carrying forms and objects. Such a view would
make Space and Time not two different kinds of self-extension, but two
inseparable aspects of one and the same self-extension of the cosmic Eternal. 3
Bradley h?s drawn the attention of the philosophic world to the existence
of different spaces and different times. In addition to one all-embracing
physical space, there are different dream-spaces, imaginary spaces, and
the conceptual space that functions as the habitat of our different concepts.
Similarly, in addition to one all-embracing physical time there are dream
tijnes and the imaginary times that belong to our different stories. The
commonsense method of understanding this multiplicity of different spaces
and different times is to affirm the reality of physical space and physical
time alone, and to relegate the rest of it to the realm of pure illusion. Prof.
Alexander, a neo-realist that he is, cannot but accord reality to mental
spaces and mental times, but he takes considerable pains to show that the
lcc The Life Divine", Vol. II (i), p. 99.
ibid., p. 103.
ibid., p. 100.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
latter have spatio-temporal connection with, and consequently fall within,
the one all-emcompassing physical Space-Time. Mr. Bradley maintains
that mental spaces do no doubt possess a type of reality of their own, but
still they cannot be said to have any spatial connection with the physical
space which is as much a product of ideal construction as they themselves
are. In his judgment, the different kinds of space, physical and mental,
can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-spatial unity. Simi-
larly, mental times such as belong to dreams and stories cannot be said to
have any temporal connection with the physical time which is as much an
ideal construction as the former. So, the different kinds of time, physical
and mental, can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-temporal
unity. Integral Idealism holds that different spaces and different times
which are relative to different states of consciousness do surely enjoy each
a spacific type of reality of its own. But, according to Integral Idealism, the
fundamental truth and essential basis of the wide diversity of spaces and
times is neither one physical space-time as Alexander holds, nor one mys-
terious all-engulfing Whole that swallows them up beyond recognition as
Bradley suggests, but the self-extension of the creative Spirit. All times
and spaces are, as Sri Auiobindo puts it, "renderings of a fundamental
spiritual reality of Time-Space." 1
Those who have any acquaintance with direct spiritual experience bear
witness to what they call "chidakasa" which means the space or limitless
expanse of consciousness. It is a fact of direct experience that when one
draws back from the physical space, one becomes aware of a. subjective
space-extension in which the mind lives and moves about. This immaterial
extension is not less real than physical space, but rather belongs to a higher
level of reality. It would also be wrong to suggest that mental space was
quite unrelated to physical space. Thece is in fact a relation of constant
interpenetration between the two. As Sri Aurobindo testifies 'out mind
can move in its own space in such a way as to effectuate a movement also
in space of Matter or act upon something distant in space of Matter!- But
behind this mental extension, there is a stil! higher kind of extenson, a
pure spiritual space, which contains within itself the secret essence of phy-
sical space. A man can step back into this higher kind of extension by a
mighty effort of concentration. From pure spiritual space which is revealed
to the inward eye of the soul time seems to drop away, as there is no
perception of any change or movement there. It is this timeless spiritual
* "The Life Divine", Vol. II (i), p. ror.
ibid., p. 102.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
extension which manifests itself in the shape of the subjective mind-field
at the level of the pure mind, and in the shape of the objective field of
senseperception at the level of the sense-mind.
Similarly, by drawing back from the physical time by inward spiri-
tual movement, it is possible to have an increasing insight into
the essence of the temporal. Just as the ultimate truth about the
nature of space is the infinity of the Infinite, so also the ultimate
truth about the nature of time is the eternity of the Eternal. We,
human beings, involved as we are in the movement of time, are tied
down to the passing moment in respect of immediate experience. Moving
along with the movement of time, we can lay hold only of very tiny
temporal fragments that go to constitute our ever-shifting specious present.
The past and the future alike are to us but ideal constructions. But though
we cannot directly perceive the past and the future, we construct the time-
process in our imagination as a beginningless and endless series, as an eternal
movement, flow or stream. Now, critical reflection can never reconcile
itself to such a beginningless and endless movement of time. The infinite
time-process, which is for us an ideal construction, must also be capable of
being directly experienced in order that it may be said to be concretely real.
Royce suggests that just as a definite length of time, however small, the
specious present that contains a rearward and forward-looking end, is
immediately given to the finite span of human consciousness, similarly the
whole time-process with its three periods of past, present and future, must
be immediately present in a flash of intuition to the "Eternal Now" or the
infinite span of consciousness of the Absolute. Royce maintains that it is
utter folly to denounce the infinite time-process as a "bad infinite". Even
when considered as a conceptual construction, the time-series, properly
understood, is quite self-coherent and satisfactory to the intellect. Modern
mathematics has amply demonstrated that the concept of the serial infinite
is quite intelligible as a self-imaging or self-representative system (as a
"kette"). It is present at a stroke to our thought by means of its defining con-
cept. But in order that the time-process may gain concrete reality, it must
also have a place, in Royce's opinion, in some all-inclusive immediate expe-
rience. It must be present indeed as a "totum simul" to the infinite span of
consciousness of the Divine. "The eternal insight", as Royce puts it,
"observes the whole of time and all that happens therein, and is eternal only
by virtue of the fact that it does know the whole of time". 1 But the infinite
order of time is not only concretely real as an object of immediate con-
l "The World and the Individual", Vol. II, p. 144.
SPACE, TIME AND ETERNITY
sciousness of God, it is not simply a totum simul., it is also, as Pringle
Pattison points out 1 , a singificant whole embraced in the Divine Conscious-
ness which at the same time transcends it. It is significant as a teleological
scheme, the successive moments of time being different stages in the pro-
gressive realisation of the Divine Will or Purpose. It is to this fact of being
sustained by the Divine Will that the infinite process of time owes its unity
If, however, we are to follow the indications of spiritual experience, we
cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there is also an aspect of conscious-
ness, a poise of being of the Spirit, to which the category of time is simply
inapplicable. The Spirit in its supracosmic transcendence is characterised
by timeless eternity. In respect of its immediate status or self-absorbed
essentiality, the Absolute is without any development of consciousness
in movement or happening. But since supra-cosmic transcendence, cosmic
universality, a^d intnv-cosmic individuality are, in the view of Integral
Idealism, only different poises of being of the same Supreme Spirit, so time-
lessness, totum simul, and time-movement, are but different statuses or posi-
tions taken by consciousness with regard to the same Eternal Reality. While
Bradley's conception of eternity as the transmuted essence of time is true
of the Spirit in its self-absorption, Royce's view of eternity as a totum simul
or as the whole-consciousness of an infinite succession is true of the Spirit
in its cosmic universality or dynamic creativity, and the ordinary view of
eternity as an endless march of time is true of the Spirit in its individual
entanglement in the creative flux. It must not be supposed that the different
presentations of the Eternal as described above are incapable of existing
together, so that they are only successive phases either in our apprehension
of reality or in the gradual self-alienation of reality itself. It must not,
for example, be supposed that when the timeless experience of the Absolute
is attained, the embracing consciousness of time as a totum simul or the
simultaneous integrality of Time as well as the advancing consciousness of
the time-movement must forthwith melt away like vanishing mist. It must
not also be supposed that God cannot at the same time have an aspect of
timeless experience and an aspect of inclusive consciousness of the entire
time-process. Timelessness, eternal now, and endless succession are in fact
the same Eternity in its different forms relative to the different poises of
being of the Spirit. They form a simultaneous multiplicity of self-presenta-
tions of the same Reality; they correspond to different powers of self-aware-
ness of the Supreme, the power of status and non-manifestation, the power
lc< The Idea of God", p. 355-57.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
of self-effectuating action, and the power of sportive self-entanglement in
the flux of becoming. God in His unmanifest essentiality is eneffably non-
temporal; God in His self-manifestting creativity is inclusive of the temporal;
and God in His self-alienated embodiment moves long with the movement
of the temporal.
The Rapid Rite of a Seer-Priest
T. V. KAPALI SASTRY
A S we follow in the footsteps of the Master in our studies of the hymns
"^ of the Rig Veda, we get more and more convinced not merely of the
straightforwardness of the approach that leads us to discover the inner and
true sense of the Riks, but of another fact. It is the conviction growing upon
us that this is the only true way, that the inner meaning is the substance
which is the treasure' of spiritual wisdom and Knowledge of the Gods and the
Godhead. It is not that there is nothing else, any more or less than this, it
may contain within it concealed other knowledge that pertains to the domain
of many branches of Science. There may be and is room for other line or
lines of approach affording fields of thought, for those interested in Astro-
nomy, Geology, Biology or Ayurveda. But the one inner meaning that runs
consistently through the whole body of the hymnal text is the main issue of
the Veda and that is the spiritual and occult knowledge and Divine Wisdom
which certainly justifies the hoary tradition of India among all religions and
sects and saints that the Veda is Revelation and Divine Scripture. It may
throw light on other objects of Knowledge, but they are side-issues, not the
main spirit and substance which is knowledge of truths about the Godhead
and the Gods who are Powers and Personalities of the Godhead and about
their status, and manifestation in the Cosmos as well as in man.
Apart from this sacred tradition which is based upon the secret and inner
sense of the Veda, there runs a parallel tradition that the Veda is a book of
Works, Karma Kanda, rituals and sacrifice, and this is true in the external
and gross sense, so ably and with great industry and diligence worked out
and brought forth in the great commentary of Sayana. Leaving aside the
question of discrepancies and quite often the incongruous and poverty-
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
stricken thought that run through this commentary on a large body of the
hymns and after all this is a matter of detail Sayana's work is consistent
in giving us the external and ritualistic meaning of the hymns. And this
is a great asset for us, for those who attempt to get into the inner secret
through the outer garb that is provided in this monumental work of extra-
ordinary grossness and crudities often bordering on incoherences; it pro-
vokes our thought and invites our attention to seek for the secret behind the
apparent. But though Sayana gives us the outer and apparent meanings of
Riks, though the Gods are treated as Nature-powers, though very often
his interpretation with the occasional help of Yaska lends support to the
Naturalistic interpretation of modern scholarship, he does not reject, as
Sri Aurobindo points out, the spiritual authority of the Veda or 'deny that
there is a higher truth concealed in the Riks.' Nor does he affirm that the
Vedic hymns are sacrificial compositions of priests, even though his inter-
pretation constitutes a colossal support for ritualism.
But it may be asked: is it a baseless assumption on the part of scholars
that the hymns are compositions of the priests for use in the sacrifices? Such
a doubt naturally arises in the absence of a correct understanding of the posi-
tion of the priest in the Vedic society, as well as the real character of the
hymns used and chanted in the public sacrifices. For it is the seer, Rishi,
who was the priest officiating at the ceremonies and the Riks were used for
the rituals. The seers were certainly singers and their chants were sung
at public sacrifices referring 'constantly to the customary ritual and seem
to call for the outward objects of these ceremonies, wealth, prosperity., vic-
tory over enemies. 5 While the Riks in their inner sense are profoundly spiri-
tual and the exoteric sense was a mask which alone was perceptible to the
outward mind, it was not and need not be merely a mask. Again as
the Master points out, they were 'words of power, powerful not only for
internal but external things. 5 The ancient mystics were concerned first
and foremost with things of the Spirit, but they were also possessed of
Knowledge of occult truths and 'believed that by inner means outer as well
inner results could be produced, that thought and words coulct be so used
as to bring about realisations of every kind, both the human and the divine"
But a question may arise. How can we say that the seer of profound
spiritual knowledge was also the priest for public worship? Of course in
the Puranic legends many Rishis are mentioned as priests, purohits> and some
of them are Rig Vedic names of renown, Vasishtha for example. Is it safe
to build and base such a theory on later stories? This difficulty vanishes,
once we study the hymns closely, note the tradition in regard to their outer
applications also and take the help of the Brahmanas in the context in spite
of their obscure symbolism. When we scrutinise, we find not only that the
Rishi officiated as the Purohit at the Yajna, but also that the Riks he used are
deliberately ritualistic to outward appearance mentioning the implements,
external objects, and other things used in the sacrifice, as symbols covering an
inner secret known to the Rishi and the initiates. I propose to illustrate this
point by citing the example of a well-known Seer who consented to officiate
at a Soma sacrifice without the customary goat-immolation. This ritual is
entitled Anjah-Sava which, Sayana explains, means a rapid direct straight-
way offering of libation without the admixture of the sacrificial animal^
anjasd rijund mdrgena ishti-pashu sdnkaryam antarena. The seer-priest is the
renowned Shunah-shepa and the hymn for the Anjah-sava is the fifth of the
seven Hymns ascribed to him in the First Mandala of the Rik Samhita. It
is 1.28, containing nine Riks in which external things like the pressing stones
for the extraction of the Sonia juice, the platters to receive the juice, the
pestle and the mortar, the wooden vessel and other outer things are so plainly
mentioned that on the face of it one can conclude that it is a sacrifiicial
composition. When we consider the ideas expressly stated, it is rather child-
ish, devoid of any deep thought, or significance. But when we look deeper
into it and ponder over the terms used and the application of the whole
hymn in the ritual as explained in the Brahmanas and also take into account
the interesting explanation given by the Brahmanas for certain terms used
according to themselves as symbolism, we find ourselves no longer studying
the babblings of primitive people deceiving themselves and deceived by an
avaricious and cunning priestcraft, but enter into the mysteries of the pro-
found Vedic Yoga of which the seer in question was a notable votary and
indeed he embodies one of the types of spiritual victories recorded in the
Rig Veda that crowned the toil and ascension of the Aryan soul.
Sayana in his commentary on the 28th hymn of the First Mandala refers
to Anjah-sava as the title of the rapid rite of Sorna libation seen by the Rishi
Shunahshepa in response to the request of other sages and priests that the
former must officiate on that day, the day of sacramental bath that is the
close of the ceremony. Here mention is made of Aitareya Brahmana 33-5
which narrates the story in brief. The point to be noted in this connection
is this that Shunahshepa was unanimously chosen to officiate because he
was recognised as one who was the recipient of the grace of the Gods, devata-
anugraha-sampanna, whose favours helped him to get released from the
bonds to which reference for the first time is made in 1.24.
And these bonds are not fastenings with ropes on three parts of the body
the head and the waist and the feet in spite of the later stories. There is
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
nothing in the 24th hymn, in the text itself to support the extraordinarily
gross meaning read into the hymn to the effect that he was sold to be immo-
lated in a sacrifice. The legend started slowly with the Aitareya Brahmana
in a moderate form, but assumed huge proportions in the Puranas. But a
close reading of the hymn itself shows beyond a shadow of doubt that these
fastenings refer to the upper, the lower and the middle regions; 'uttama,
adhama, madhyama 9 are the words used in the Rik. And certainly they point
to the parts of the being; the upper is the knowledge part represented by the
mind and spirit, the lower the material basis, the physical, while the middle
refers to the link between Matter and mind, the vital nexus the life-prin-
ciple. The profound sense of the whole hymn reveals the spiritual signi-
ficance of every line and word in the Riks of that whole hymn. It is not our
purpose here to take up the question of Shunahshepa and explain the meaning
of the hymn around which so much crust has collected. That has been done
elsewhere. 1 It is sufficient to note here that such was the seer whom the
priests honoured to officiate at the ceremony.
The Rishi readily consented to conduct the rite and saw> 'dadarsha' the
method of a rapid rite for the straightway offering of the Soma libation.
And the 28th hymn of nine Riks is used for the ritual. We shall first give a
close rendering of the Riks which are apparently meant for the rite and make
mention of the materials connected with the ceremony and then show how
these very things are used as symbols for the inner sacrifice and signify
subtle and deep truths pertaining to the Vedic Yoga. And in unveiling the
symbols we shall as a matter of course take into account ancient authorities
who looked upon these materials as symbols, though not exactly in the way
we do, but still were familiar with a general knowledge of symbolism.
Of the nine Riks, in the first four Indra is invoked to come down and
drink the Soma; the next four relate to the extraction of the Soma juice and
the part of the pestle and mortar, while the last refers to the wooden vessel
in which the Soma juice is poured and preserved and the cow-hide in which
the dregs are kept.
Here is the English rendering of the hymn, verse by verse.
i. There where the broad-based Stone is high above to press (the Soma
juice out), O Indra, drink with eagerness the pourings of the mortar. 2
1 This has been discussed in my Sanskrit commentary on the hymn, Rig Veda 1-28,
and in the article based upon it by M. P. Pandit, that appeared in the Pathamandir Annual
No. 8, 1949.
Note. Yatra 'where' means 'in the ritual', in this action; it can be applied
to the outer rite as well as the inner Yaga. Sayana takes the preposition ava
in the second half to mean avagatya, recognise. This is unwarranted even
for the exoteric meaning. The sense of the Rik is this: Indra is above, he is
called upon to come down, ava, to drink ava jalgulah the drippings of the
Soma juice from the mortar. In the ritualistic interpretation, grava, stone
is taken to be the pestle. Now there is a discrepancy. It is clearly the pres-
sing stone and not pestle. The scholiast calls it pestle because there is the
mortar, ulukhala in the second line. Pestle and mortar are of wood and used
in the Vedic rites to separate the chaff from the grain, they are not used to
extract the Soma juice. Grava is stone used to beat the Soma creeper, so
that it becomes soft and pressed, yields the juice which is received in the
platters. Here in the very first Rik of the hymn the seer significantly refers
to the 'stone above' urdhva\ he does not say it is raised, though for the external
rite it can be so interpreted. This stone which is above is Indra's weapon,
the vajra. Indra is above, his weapon is above; by the blow dealt by the
vajra even as Vritra, the darkened cloud of adverse forces and ignorance and
inertia vanishes, so also the hard matter of body loses its hardness, becomes
plastic, free from tamas, inertia and its brood of adverse conditions and forces
that oppose the release of Rasa, the delight of all experiences to be offered
to the Gods, the Cosmic powers of the Godhead. Here the mortar is the
material body, and it must be noted that earth and every product of it such
as the tree, and anything made of wood is symbolic of the physical body and
even life and mind as products of the body are very often treated symbolically
as of earth and earthern material; of this again later on. This then is the gist
of the first Rik. Here this body symbolised by the mortar 'ulukhala' has
yielded the Soma, the rasa, its sap, the essence and essential delight for the
acceptance of Indra, the Divine mind, the God of the luminous mind, the
higher consciousness in the pure mind of heaven, the ruler of this triple
world of Matter, Life and Mind. The Rishi addresses Indra invoking his
presence to come down and drink the Rasa whose extraction was possible
because of the benign blows of the grava, the Vajra weapon of Indra himself.
Note that this stone is the Vajra weapon, not the gross thunderbolt which is
meaningless in the inner sacrifice, but the Vak, the Word wide-based in the
Vast above, urdhwa-budhna prithu-budhna as can be gathered from repeated
reference to it as such in many lines of the hymns of the Rig Veda, and so
explained in the Brahmanas in their moods of symbolic interpretation of
the Vedic rituals and Vedic mantras. This Vak, the Word or speech whose
source is the Vast above is really that of the luminous mind of heaven, of
the higher consciousness and when it functions, its vibrations rush forth
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
and blow off the din and dust of the lower triple body of mind, life and
matter, it illumines the mind, energises the life-force, drives out the inertia
from the physical body and softens it so that it releases the rasa of all the
experiences it earned through the life and heart and mind. This, then, is
the real character and function of the grava that it is the Word of power
issuing forth from the higher consciousness which is the domain of Indra,
pregnant with the light of knowledge, but dynamic in its vibrant movement
that removes all kinds of coverings and effects with the blow it deals out
to the being of the worshipper, yajamana, the release of the essence of all
delight lying latent and hidden in the vessel, adhar, of the human being
which is indicated by the symbol of the v/ooden mortar, ulukhala.
2. There where the two platters (to hold the juice), like broad-hips, are
laid, O Indra, drink with eagerness the effusions of the mortar. 1
Now in the external rite of Soma extraction pressing stones are used to
beat the creeper to squeeze and make it soft and release the sap. This extrac-
tion is called abhishava. But the juice is received in two platters^ called
'adhi-shavana phalaka'. They are two shallow dishes, one to receive and
the other to cover. They are broad and likened to broad hips to denote that
they are broad and always two, never one without the other.
In the inner sacrifice, these two platters are symbols of Earth and Heaven
according to Brahmanic symbology in which case they are the lower physical
consciousness and the higher consciousness of the luminous mind. But
we do not follow the Brahmanas in unveiling the symbols as they are very
often at variance with the many alternatives they themselves suggest or with
other Brahmanic interpretations with the result they become obscure to
us. But they shed light on the truth that the stone, platters, mortar, wooden
cup or pot, chamasa and kalasha are all symbolic and should not be taken
in their literal sense as unthinking priestcraft would do. The two platters
are the mind and life in the body which represent the principles of knowledge
and "activity. These two are together engaged in receiving the rasa yielded
by the mortar of the material body and are conjointly there to receive and
preserve the juice, the substantial element in all experience for offering to
the Gods. In fact it is the twin aspect of knowledge' and action, mind and
life quite in accord and proper adjustment that makes it possible to receive
and preserve the extracted rasa which is their common aim and true function.
This is in biief the inner meaning of the second verse. It must be noted here
that the implements used in the ritual are all mentioned here one by one,
at the same time used as symbols which are avowedly said to be
symbols, as has been pointed out, and not our invention or the result of
ingenious speculation. Now let us pass on to the third Rik.
3. Where (in the rite) the woman learns (or practises) the egress and in-
gress, O, Indra, drink with eagerness the effusions of the mortar. 1
This is an interesting Rik. The woman goes out of and comes into the
sacrificial hall. The woman is the sacrificer's wife. This is Sayana's expla-
nation of the teims, Nan., apachyava and upachyava. The point to be noted
here is that no Vedic rite could be performed by any one without a wife.
The idea is that the woman, as the Shakti of man, shares the act and its
fruit with him whose Shakti she is. I have given egress and ingress as the
English equivalents of apachyava and upachyava, it is not quite accurate
and may even mislead, but it has the advantage of leaning more towards the
ritualistic interpretation which is best represented in Sayana's commentary.
There are other commentators, for instance, Skandaswami, giving a very
ludicrous and vulgar meaning which does not merit notice here. Some
modern scholars think that it is rise and fall of the pestle that the woman,
sacrificer's wife marks and learns. But there is no actual mention of pestle
at all as has been shown already. In this verse also the words used are signi-
ficant pointing definitely to the true and inner meaning.
As the action of the Vedic Yoga proceeds, the rasa of the whole being of
the Yogin the sacrificer, Yajamana, is pressed out and received in the two
platters of life and mind in the body and this was stated in the second verse.
In the third it is stated that the Shakti of the Purusha, the sacrificer con-
stantly watches and observes and learns the Yogic process in which the
higher Force comes down into the being upachyava and the force from the
being goes up or out, apachyava making way for the entry of the higher force
into the being. Nari is Nara-Shakti and Nara is either man or God in the Veda
denoting one of strength. The power, the Conscious Power of the powerful
Soul, nara, watches the yogic process of the force of getting in from above
and rising up from below, and thus learns shikshate the secret of the yogic
action which is fulfilled in pressing out the juice, the delight of all experiences
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
of the being to be offered to the Higher Powers of the Godhead, the Gods.
Thus an intimate knowledge of the secret of the upward and downward
movement of the Yoga-force becomes a natural possession under the control
of the conscious power of the strong soul that has the strength to give its
all to the Gods and receive in return what comes from the Godhead.
4. Where, they fasten the churning staff with a rope as with reins to
control (a horse). O, Indra, drink with eagerness the effusions of the mortar. 1
In the external rite of Soma extraction when the juice is pressed out, it
is mixed with milk or curds oryava, corn. They are called the three infusions,
gavdshira, dadhydshira and yavd-shira respectively. When the Soma juice
is to be mixed with this infusion, it is churned; the churning stick is moved
by a rope placed round the handle and round a post planted in the ground
as a pivot. When the ends of the rope are drawn backwards and forwards,
it gives the stick a rotatory motion and the component parts are separated.
Thus they tie the churning stick with cords for churning and steadying
the vessel, just as with reins one restrains a horse.
In the inner sacrifice, from the play of the Yoga-force of knowledge and
action through the concord of mind and life, the rasa, the flow of delight
that is pressed out has to be retained in the body-vessel and not spilt; and
for this purpose, the body must be made firm and strong and steady and
this object is achieved by the spinal column, made steady charged with the
vibrations of the higher consciousness brought by the favours and workings
of the Higher Powers. Thus in the first four verses, the pressing out of
Soma in the Yajamana's being and the instruments used in the process
are mentioned, and the Rishi calls upon Indra to come down and accept
the offering of Soma that has been extracted with so much skill and toil
The next four Riks are used in the act of straining the Soma juice received
in the platters.
5. O, Mortar, if in truth thou art set in every house, here, give forth
thy resplendent sound, like the victor's drum. 2
Here is a pronounced difficulty in the gross sense. Now, the mortar
is addressed and called upon to give a loud sound like the drum of the
conquerors. Mortar never makes noise without the rapid rise and fall of
the pestle which is nowhere mentioned in the whole hymn though grava
in the first verse is pressed to yield that meaning in the ritualistic interpre-
tation as it has to be somehow managed. Now in the inner interpretation,
the idea is quite clear. Mortar is of course the physical being. In every
house, in every man, there is a mortar, there is a material body but every
body does not shed the precious juice. But the Rishi says, you are splendid
and have given out the essence of all the experiences for offering even though
you are jada matter, thick with inertia and darkness. You have trained
yourself to respond to the touches and influence of the higher Powers that
are invoked by the Yajaniana and have yielded the rasa of your being.
Therefore you can loudly proclaim your victory over the tamasic forces
that oppose the release of the rasa. Hence like the drum of the conqueror
you can proclaim; it is not every mortar, the material body of every one,
that is so successful as you.
6. O Lord of the Forest, the wind blows fast in front of thee, O Mortar,
for Indra that he may drink, press forth the Soma juice. 1
Vanaspati literally lord of the forest is used to indicate any tree or plant
or part and product of the forest. Mortar being made of wood is addressed
here Vanaspati. The mortar is called upon to press out the juice, and the
wind blows fiercely vivdtil How does the wind blowing fast or fiercely help
the mortar to yield the juice? Sayana says the wind blows fast in front of
the mortar because of the speed of the pestle's constant blow! Where is
the pestle in the Rik? Here again, the Rik is seemingly ritualistic, but really
reveals seciets of the action of Yoga-force in the inner sacrifice. Mortar
is indeed the material body; Vayu is the life-force which is stimulated and
by far strengthened at this stage, thus helping the body to give out the
rasa. Without a strong life-force awake and active nothing can be done in
the body whatever may be the light of knowledge that may fall upon it;
the light does not enter a feeble frame, and even if it enters the weak material
cannot hold it without a strong vital support. Only when it is endowed
with a strong and well-poised life-force in action, can the body be willing
to give itself joyfully i.e. the rasa for Indra's drink.
1 3cT FT ^ 3FTCR% WRft
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
7. Implements of sacrifice, best of strength-givers, sport high on like
the two bay-horses of Indra munching noisily. 1
Here again, the dual number is used in the address. Who are addressed
is left to be understood and in the ritualist's interpretation, they are the
inevitable pestle and mortar and they give food, vdja. They are the imple-
ments of sacrifice dyaji. Because of the movement of the pestle in the
mortar, they give loud sound; uchcha is thus interpreted without warrant.
The straight meaning is uchchaih vihdra; they sport high on like the two
horses of Indra champing grain.
In the esoteric interpretation, the implements are really the two platters;
they are of the forest vanaspati as the next verse confirms by stating so
expressly. They are the procurers of strength in its plenitude vdjasdtamam.
They sport high above, like Indra's horses. Because of their conjoint
action and movement in the upper regions of the being of the Yogin, the
Yajamana, they procure strength increasingly and receive the rasa of the
being for offering. Indra's two horses are used as a simile here for their
capacity for enjoyment. It is much more than a simile. Life and mind
themselves representing force of action and light of knowledge are the
twin vehicles of the Divine Mind, the ruler of the triple words and king
of the Gods, Indra.
8. O, Lords of the forest, mighty with the mighty pressors, press out
today the most sweel soma juice for Indra's drink. 2
Rishwa means great or mighty; to press out the juice strength is neces-
sary; hence with the help of other preists present in the sacrifice the juice
is to be pressed out of the platters.
But in the inner ritual, the Rishi calls upon the platters of Life and Mind
to press out the Rasa with the help of the mighty Powers of Knowledge
and Power who are ever ready to render assistance to the aspiring soul
that'has consecrated itself for the Godward life; and this demands the giving
up of all one is and has for the acceptance and enjoyment of the higher
Powers of the Universal Purusha to whom all that one is and has really
3FWT 1 1
9. What remains, hold in the two chamasa vessels; pour the Soma on
the filter and set the residue on the cow-hide. 1
In the ritual we know the juice is purified and strained and then poured
into a large wooden cup or vessel called the drona-kalasha. The dregs
are set in the cow-hide.
Thus the outer rite was rapidly performed straightway offering the be-
verage to Indra who is invoked to come down to drink in the first four
In the inner sacrifice, when we take into consideration the context, the
chamu or the chamasa is a bowl and the two bowls are nothing else but
the cups of the vital body and the mental body which were referred to by the
symbolic platters, when they were used for the extraction of the Rasa.
But now, when the process is complete they are referred to as separate
vessels to signify the yogic secret that though life and mind function in
the body as part of it, they really are separate entities and are separated
by the Yoga-force for readjustment in the new set-up for the consumma-
tion of the Yoga. Those who kave studied Sri Aurobindo on the Ribhus
can not fail to appreciate the Yogic fact that out of the one bowl, four bowls
are made for the Yogin by the Ribhus, who were once human beings, but
have become gods by dint of their tapasya and help Indra in a variety of
ways; they are indeed 'artisans of Immortality'. Thus the juice of delight
is taken up in the two bowls of Life and Mind. They are then poured into
the Kalasha which is the material body. The residue is kept in the hide of
cow which is the covering and protection of the Ray of Light in the phy-
sical frame of man.
We have stated that symbolism is the key to unlock the secret of the
Veda; but the device of symbolism dating back from the age of the Rig
Veda has been used in the latter scriptures also, closing with the Epics,
Puranas and Tantric works. But it is the Brahmanas following the Vedas
that openly gave symbolic explanations of the rituals and necessarily of
the hymns used in them and this fact was recognised by later authors in
their commentaries on the Brahmanas and on the Upanishads which form
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
parts of them. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad forms the close of the
I4th chapter of the Shatapatha Brahmana. Out of a number of examples
we shall choose one to show how symbols were interpreted by Acharyas
like Shankara, though that does not mean they recognised the close-knit
symbolism of the hymns of the Rig Veda rich with deep meaning and pro-
found truths of spiritual wisdom. But it undoubtedly shows that these
later teachers of Vedanta know that there are many passages in the Upa-
nishads and the Veda Samhitas which are symbolic, while some others
are riddles and puzzles and the like. The passage occurs in Br. Up. 2.2.3.
It refers to a bowl chamasa with its base or bottom above and opening below.
The Glory that is the universe of forms or the All-form is laid in if, says
the text. 1 The Upanishad, rather the Brahmana itself proceeds to give
the explanation on which Shankara remarks: 'What is this chamasa with hole
below and base above? It is the head which is above like a chamasa
bowl, and the mouth is the aperture below. In that bowl is laid the All-
form. Just as Soma is kept in the bow! 5 the universe of forms or the All-
form is set in the head etc. 52 This is just an instance to show that the sym-
bolic meaning was recognised and quote* by philosophers of later times
even though they were immured with the idea and spirit of their age when
the tradition that the Veda was a book for rituals, karmakanda, had long
firmly settled itself in the minds of scholars and leaders of thought with
great repute for originality. We may note in passing that when a meaning
is not directly conveyed by the word, when it is not evident, but indirect
and concealed, it is called paroksha-vachana which term is used in the
Brahmana-Upanishads whenever there is symbolism or riddle or some-
thing apparently incongruous or even repulsive. When we meet with
such passages, it is a sure indication that the sense is concealed and that
it is a hint to find out the secret behind the apparent language.
Now in unveiling the symbols of the Iliks used in the rapid rite of Soma,
we have taken the help of other passages of the Rig Veda and taken into
account the Yajurveda, the Veda most important for the ritualist as well
as some Brahmana passages that have bearing on the question. We have
already spoken of the two platters adhishavaniya as symbolic and
? ^ ft> Sf^f^vy: H<fK*J
t fafffcf fPTcf
explained it in a way that fits in with the rest of the symbols in the rite. And
the White Yajurveda and tho Shatapatha Brahmana (2.9.4) proclaim them
to be so, stating that the two platters are symbols of Earth and Heaven.
With reference to grava this Brahmana says it is vajra and the blow it gives
destroys what it calls papma, evil (or sin), the dark and opposing block of
forces that prevents the release of the juice of delight, the flow of Soma;
it is not the Soma that is destroyed., but the papma, papma hatah, na somah.
The grava is above, its base is broad, the Vast above; it is the weapon of
Indra who is above, it is Vajra in the outer world, but its character in the
inner sense is Vak> speech; the Word from the higher heights coming from
the region of the Indra. This is clear from many passages of the Rig Veda.
The Gods are above and Indra is certainly above, he is invoked to come
down to man and to accept his offering. He is there above, and lifts us 3
mortals that we may live above. We shall cite a few passages here.
1. O, Indra of hundred activities, stay on above for our growth (or pro-
tection) in this our toil for plenitude (1.30.6)
2. Stay on above like the God Savitr for our growth (or protection);
Thou, above, bestower of plenitude (1.36.13).
3. Thou above, guard us from evil, with thy flame of Intuitive vision
burn every devouring demon (1.36.14).
Urdhva-budhna, uru-budhna, prithu-budhna are in frequent use in the
hymns e.g. IV.2.5; 1.169.6; X.47-3. This budhna is the base or foundation
which is said to be above, urdhva, extensive and vast, uru> broad and wide,
expansive prithu. It is used as an adjective to grava and to some other things
that are to come from above, related to the Gods. In a verse Indra is called
upon to bestow upon the Rishi the wealth which is at once deep gabhira,
wide and vast uru> based in the vast prithu-budhna. It is an interesting Rik
which reveals the real nature of the wealth above for which the Rishis
prayed and toiled. "Riches, full of powerful Mantras (su-brahmanam)
God-possessing, high above, wide and based on vast foundations above,
virile with the Rishi's inspiration, conquering the enemy (that is the oppo-
sing force) such riches, mighty and colourful, vouchsafe to us" (X.47-3).
Similar is the Stone, Indra' s grava of the lofty heights. It is the Heaven's
bolt of thunder which is indeed a symbol of the voice of Indra above which
is invoked to drop down for the destruction of the enemy(II.30.5). The
'Stone 5 voices with the sound of the singer's chant (1.83.6). The 'Stone'
attracts with its voice the mind of Indra (1.84.3), "Go you both (Indra and
Vayu) there where the stone voices forth" (1.135.17). Again the stones of
the lofty heights (111.53.12), c the voiceful stone laid on the altar' ^.31.4), a
variegated stone set in the midst of Heaven (V.47-3). These c stones' are of
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
Heaven and from the heights of being; they are not of earth, not the common
stones used to press the creeper Soma. For the Soma is of Heaven and
pressed by the symbolic stones for offering to the Gods,, tarn twain devebhyo
gravabhih sutah (IX. 80.4), 'pressed by the Stone, O, Soma, you enter the
sieve strainer bestowing valiant strength on the chanter' (IX.6y.i9). These
are a few lines out of the hundreds one frequently comes across in the hymns
that go to show that the 'Stone' and other objects used in the ritual are
symbolic and reveal the inner truths of the Vedic Yoga of which the seers
were adepts. We shall close this short study with one last reference to a
Rik in Vamadeva's hymns (17.27.5) where the kalasha though outwardly a
beaker, refers certainly to the body. It is a famous hymn quoted in the
Upanishads and as such is admittedly, even according to the ritualistic
commentaries, rich with spiritual truths and therefore of inner significance.
'Let Indra accept the white beaker, annointed with the cow's yield, filled
with the luminous liquid etc.' Here the beaker kalasha., is the drona-kalasha
used in the rite. But it is symbolic and indicates the body which is annointed
with the Ray of Light, it is 'white' i.e. it is pure and filled with the shining
rasa, the liquid of Soma, Delight. Here is a fine specimen of a hymn which
openly proclaims the spiritual truth of Vamadeva in the womb for Divine
birth and his experience in the iron-gated cities etc; it uses plainly, in the
last verse quoted above, ritualistic objects. This would be incongruous in
the extreme, if something deeper were not meant, deeper than the beaker
and milk and the juice of a creeper.
Such is the character of the Vedic ritual meant for outward worship; such
is the nature of the symbolic objects prayed for and the materials used in the
sacrificial rite; such also is the nature of the deeper truths of the hymns
which keep to the inner sense quite closely and yet maintain to a large extent
the outward form and meanmg suitable to the understanding and use of the
un-initiate. The salient feature that must be noted is this that while
thq hymns occasionally throw the exoteric sense overboard when so warranted
by a necessity for the esoteric pressing overtly for prominence, still in most
hymns the outer meaning le-aps to the eye and the hyrnn 1.28 used in the rite
of Anjah-sava is a typical example to show that the ritual is no ordinary
rite and that the hymn is not an off-hand or laboured composition of the
priestcraft, that it has a revelatory significance and meaning deeper than
what strikes the mmd at first thought. And Shunah-shepa is a seer of renown,
a seer whose victorious release from the triple bond of mind and life and
body has given rise to allegories and impossible legends, whose other hymns,
and many Riks in them, rank high among the plainly spiritual passages of
lofty ideas and occult truths in the hymnal text. Thus when we study the
hymns with the necessary background the secret of the Veda becomes appa-
rent, the inner truth becomes lucid and transparent and we begin to appre-
ciate more fully and intelligently the Master's words that the Vedic Seer
was also a priest who officiated at public sacrifices and chanted the hymns
whose real purport, the inner truth of Divine Wisdom was known to him
and the initiate.
Theories of Human Progress and
M. P. PANDIT
growth of man in society is a fascinating subject for study and
research. Thinkers have looked at the question from various angles
and have formulated different theories regarding the social development
of man through the ages. We v/ill attempt to present some of the more
important of these in their large lines, evaluate them inter alia in the light
of Sri Aurobindo's thought, bearing in mind contemporary advanced opi-
nion, and give a brief outline of the Master's own exposition of the subject.
An alternating rhythm of repose and activity, movement and cessation
of movement characterises the life of the universe. Discussing this feature
with reference to human civilisations Prof. Toynbee draws attention to the
interesting concept of YIN and YANG in the Sinic imagery. Yin is the
static and Yang the dynamic. The nucleus of the sinic character which
stands for Yin seems to represent dark coiling clouds overshadowing the
Sun, while the nucleus of the character which stands for Yang seems to
represent the unclouded sun-disk emitting its rays. In the Chinese formula
Yin is always mentioned first.' And this is in keeping with the Eastern
tradition which has always regarded activity posterior to and consequent
upon an antecedent state of repose. Brahma the creator is born out of and
rests for support on the recumbent figure of Vishnu lying on the folds of
Sesha. The creative Power of Dynamis Kali performs her whirl of dance
on the immobile body of Shiva. Proceeding out of a state of repose, activity
has perforce to come to halt in repose, though only to set out on a further
career of movement. This fundamental trait of swing between the Yin-
static and Yang-dynamic has governed all the manifestations in the universe,
particularly human effort at a mastery and governance of life, within and
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
without, which is what we usually describe as civilisation. Many have been
such endeavours by human societies more than twenty of them have been
listed but all of them have been subject, more or less in a uniform manner,
to the eternal laws of Yin and Yang. The process is the same. A society
content to rest in its primitive state is provoked out of its Yin stage to meet
a certain difficulty challenge thrown by Nature and in acting responsively
to it the society passes into a Yang stage and the period of growth commences.
In the very process of responding to the challenge a further challenge is
provoked and so on. The society continues to grow till it successfully meets
the challenges; but the moment it flags, the Yang stage begins to end, the
society begins to lapse back into the Yin. But it will be a mistake to assume
that all the human societies have been simply engaged in a mechanical
repetitive movement. The wheel turns round its own axle, again and
again in a tireless way, true. But in performing its revolutions the wheel
moves forward also. The movement of human society taken collectively
does show such a forward inarch. In what direction does the progress tend?
Does a detached study of the past civilisations give us any clue as to the
decisive factors influencing their career?
Systematic attempts have been made by serious students of history to
study this vast saga of the rise and fall of human societies from the beginnings
of recorded time with a view to find out the prime or the predominant factor
which influences, governs and shapes their movement. There is what is
called the Theological Interpretation of History. It looks upon history as
the Drama of the Will of God. All events are determined by Him. Syste-
matised as it was in Europe, it was inevitable that the theory should have
been woven round the figure of Christ. 'Its earliest apologists sought to
show how the world had followed a divine plan in its long preparation for
the life of Christ. From this central fact of all history, mankind should con-
tinue through war and suffering until the Divine plan was completed at the
judgement day. The fate of nations is in God's hands; history is the revela-
tion of His wisdom and power. Whether He intervenes directly by miracle
or merely sets his laws in operation, he is the master of men's fate.' (Encyclo-
paedia of Britannica). Bishop Bossuet worked out this theory in great detail
(in his famous Histoire Universelle) and sought to prove that the key to the
understanding of History was in the Will of God. But the Will does not
work, in the very nature of things, openly and palpably; it works, he said,
through secondary and natural causes. And it is to these latter that we have
to turn for guidance in our study. Logically pursued, this theory led one to
these 'secondary and natural causes' for explanations of history rather than
to an inferential Will of God.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
In India we have the theory of the Time-Cycle which though it may not
correspond fully with the aforesaid Theological theory, yet has something
in common with it based as it is on Puranic theology. According to this
tradition, the movement of the universe is entirely dependent upon the
character of the particular period of cycle, the age through which it is passing.
There are four periods in the Cycles of Time through which creation is
ceaselessly revolving. Each Age has its own governing motif the Yuga-
Dharma. Thus in the first Age, the Krita Yuga, man is perfect; society is
ideal. Each lives by his own effort, realisation and achievement krita.
The second Age is the Treta Yuga, the Age of Laws and Rituals. Treta
refers to Treta Agni the fire to be worshipped, symbolising the ritualist
character of the time. This is followed by the Dvapara Yuga the Age
of scepticism, Doubt, result of intellectual efflorescence. Dvapara is that
which has two Yugas preceeding it. Dvapara is also a synonym for
doubt. And doubt once entered leads irresistibly to the fall, the Age of
Kali, when Dharma, virtue ebbs. That is the last age of the Cycle when
things are irremediably wrong and mankind rushes headlong to perdition.
At the end of this Cycle the creation once more passes round into the first
Age and so the procession goes on. All is the working-out of the Time-
Cycle, Kalachakra, ane the central fact which governs everything is the
Yuga-Dharma, the Dharma of the Age which in the last analysis is indeed
the Will of the Lord.
The limitations of such theories are obvious. They belittle human per-
sonality and shift the onus of responsibility wholly on an entity beyond
the cosmos. Man sinks into an insignificant creature tied helplessly to
the workings of an extra-cosmic Will or Law. Whatever the occult tradition
embodied in this way, clearly it is not accepted as a rational explanation
of the workings of human societies.
The next theory we take up for consideration seeks to find the all-sufficing
explanation not in God's Will but in God's chosen race. It is the character
of the Race which is produced that decides the nature and quality of the
civilisation. There is a race which has been specially designed by Nature
to rule and govern; the rest are to accept its domination. Wherever this
scheme of Providence has been fully accepted and worked, there you see
the most brilliant results. This theory was developed at length during the
early years of the last century by M. Comte de Gobineau who held that
the Nordic Man equipped with special spiritual and mental superiority,
possessed the key of civilisation in his hands. He was the 'blond beast'
of Nietzsche. The Nordic blood it was that shaped the destinies of the
early Romans and the Greeks. The connotation of the superior race was
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
rendered elastic so as to include the whole of the Teutonic peoples and
later the Aryan race from whom originally the great civilisation-pioneers
had branched out. 'It formed a special breed of men, whose various branches
have dominated every civilised region of the world'. A civilisation founded
by such a race, they said, is the highest; it maintains its quality and achieve-
ment as long as the race maintains its purity. But with the deterioration
in race purity, the debasement and decline of the civilisation commences.
It was with a view to stop such a downward movement that Madison Grant
sounded the alarm in America when he called for severe restriction of
immigration of Southern Europeans so that the element of Nordic blood in
the American race may not get reduced, thereby impairing the quality or
Now it is a question that is open to more than one answer whether race
intermixture is productive of beneficial results or the contrary. History
is strewn with instances of civilisations springing up with abundant vitality
when fresh blood was infused in the older peoples. Besides, is there anything
like pure race? We are afraid there is none. Even assuming for a moment
that civilisation is synonymous with the White or Aryan or Nordic race,
what about the contributions of the Yellow race who have one of the oldest
of civilisations to their credit? What about the Red race in the Americas
who have fathered at least four important civilisations viz. Andean, Mayan,
Yucatec and the Mexic? We have no historical record of the contributions
of the Black race. But such bits of their customs and culture as survive
in their music and dance do point to a past heritage now sunk into the
sands of time.
Besides, it is a fact to be noted that environmental differences do make
for differences even among peoples of the same race-stock. The descen-
dents of the Anglo-saxon emigrants populating the continent of Australasia
today could hardly be said to have kept their racial characteristics un-
influenced by the southern environment they have inhabited for generations
now. The changes in the lives of the descendents of the Dutch and English
settlers in South Africa are another instance to the point.
That brings us to the claim of the Geographical Interpretation of History
to give the correct clue to the rise and decadence of societies. According to
this theory of which Montesquieu is a noted protagonist, it is the nature
of the physical environment and the climatic conditions that go to determine
the very character and temperament of the men inhabiting the country
and consequently the shape of the society that ensues. In the colder climates,
men are energetic and industrious; in the tropics they are enervated and
prize idleness and sloth over everything else. (Non-activity is for them
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
the highest conceivable good and therefore a special feature of Heaven;
heat with which they are oppressed constantly is the dominating feature
of Hell.) Hence it is that all empires have been founded by the vigorous
invader from the cold North. The climatic factor has tipped the scale
in favour of the invigorating northerner. Apart from climate, purely physical
factors like coast-lines, deltas, rivers play a large part in the founding of
kingdoms and societies. How many civilisations sprang up on the coasts
of the Mediterranian? And how many have disappeared from the face of
the earth with the desication of the vegetation or with the advent of more
violent physical disturbances?
To these questions posed by the champions of the theory, the opponents
put a counter-question. Have not great nations appeared everywhere
on earth in totally different climates? Have environments of the same nature
given birth to identical or at least similar outbursts of activity? Why is
it that we do not find nomadic societies of the kind found in Eurasian and
Afrasian Steppes in the parallel environments 'of the prairies of North
America, the Llanos of Venezuela, the Pampas of Argentina' until they
were developed by western emigrants? They point, for instance, to the An-
dean civilisation on a high plateau as contrasted with the primitive state
prevailing in the Amazonian forests below. 'Was then', one asks, 'the plateau
the reason why the Andean society forged ahead of its savage neighbours?
Before we admit the idea we ought to glance at the same equatorial lattitudes
in Africa where the East African highlands fringe the forests of the Congo
Basin. We shall find then in Africa the plateau was no more productive
of a civilised society than the tropical forests of a great river valley.'
We need not proceed with the question further but only observe that
climatic and geographical factors could at best operate as incentives or
restricting factors and that too only as long as man has not acquired suffi-
cient means to control, conquer and use his environments to his best advan-
tage. They cannot be said to have decisive or even predominant say in
the birth and growth of human societies.
And then we have the Economic Interpretation of History. According
to th?s Historical Materialism or Economic Determinism, propounded
with such devastating effect by Karl Marx who is its high priest, the eco-
nomic is the fundamental factor in the progress of society. It is the eco-
nomic pressure that effected the transition of humanity from its primitive
hunting and pastoral stage into the agricultural and handicraft age a
transition that was marked with momentous consequences. No less was
the economic factor determinant of the next changeover to the Industrial
and Machine Age. Political, social and other structures stand on the solid
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
foundation of economic realities. Nations fight and die, not for idealistic
and altruistic purposes., but for economic advantages. Behind the fa9ade
of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the slogans of the French Revolution,
lay the brutal fact that a new bourgeois class had arisen in France which
wanted to wrest control and power from the older feudal classes. It is
the economic staying power that determines the life and strength of a society.
Egypt was powerful once because of its iron, England because of her tin
mines in former days and of coal in the modern. Sheer economic pressure
and necessity will force the vast proletariats of the world to unite and ride
rough-shod over the bourgeois classes and assert themselves so as to usher
in a new era of classless, stateless society.
Such an explosive doctrine as this has naturally vehement adherents
and equally determined opponents. Suffice it to say the economic motive
has indeed an important role in the development of human communites;
but that could not be by any means the sole determining factor. Man
and after all it is aggregates of men that constitute societies is much more
than an economic animal, in spite of Karl Marx. The physical necessities
of life do not exhaust his requirements though we must admit they have
so far occupied a disproportionately large part of his attention. Once a
certain minimum of physical comfort and leisure is attained he turns his
attention increasingly to the other parts of himself, viz. his emotions, his
heart, his aesthetic and intellectual demands, the mind and even his soul.
In fact man feels he is most himself when he is freed from obligations of
economic nature and is allowed to freely develop his other sides. A civili-
sation or culture is thus measured for its contribution to the sum-total of
human progress by the effort it puts in towards the cultivation and culture
of the non-physical, the mental, vital and psychic side of man. Man is
essentially a mental being and the search for the key to his movements
can be conducted most fruitfully along the mental the psychological
route charted by the human spirit from the beginnings of time. Thus con-
sidered, the theories we have taken note of convict themselves of narrow
limitation and one-si dedness. They explain, each of them, partial processes
of one, although important, side of social progress. They account for con-
tributory factors, not the decisive influences. They emphasise the physical
basis of man to the exclusion of the workings of his mind and soul. Their
attention is concentrated, as Sri Aurobindo observes, 'on the external
data, laws, institutions, rites, customs, economic factors and developments,
while the deeper psychological elements so important in the activities
of a mental, emotional, ideative being like man have been very much
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
It is only a psychological theory of history that can give us a true insight
into human social development, in which a specific line of progress is un-
mistakably discernible. Historians have piled up an imposing array of
statistics of the number of arrested civilisations, effete civilisations and
dead civilisations as an illustration of the utter futility of man's effort in
the face of the Nemesis of decay and disintegration to which all that is
born of Nature is inescapably subject. Some authorities seriously believe
that man is steadily deteriorating, that he cannot, try however he might,
touch again the heights reached by those fathers of Grecian and Roman
cultures, which stand 'apparented' to the modern Christian Civilisation of
Europe, or the sublime heights lived in by the Rishis of the Vedic Age
who were the progenitors of the Indie civilisations. There may be something
to be said in support of this reading of the present state of human affairs.
But the line of human progress is not rectilinear. Human evolution proceeds
in a cyclic manner. The cycles of evolution tend always upward, but
they are cycles and do not ascend in a straight line. The process therefore
gives the impression of a series of ascents and descents, but what is essential
in the gains of the evolution is kept or, even if eclipsed for a time, reemerges
in new forms suitable to the new ages.' (Sri Aurobindo) Thus when the
evolutionary movement in its spiral rotation turns round and round, it
seems to come back to the same old point, relapse from the height previously
attained; but that is only an appearance. The direction of the move continues
to be upward. Sri Aurobindo's exposition of the Psychological Stages
through which Human sociological evolution has proceeded opens a fresh
vista peering into the rich future towards which humanity is being determined
by the cumulative action of its meaningful past and labouring present.
Human society passes through certain distinct periods, each with its
special stress on a particular faculty of the human being the whole move-
ntent tending towards a well-planned integral cultivation and development
of the entire complex personality. Thus beginning with what may be
called the Symbolic age, humanity passes successively into the Typal,
the Conventional, the age of Individualism and Reason, followed by the
Subjective age which ultimately opens out in the consummative Spiritual
Societies, in their early periods, are always governed by a strong symbolic
mentality. They are highly imaginative and religious and are readily prone
to read into things more than what meets the physical eye. Objects and
phenomena in external nature provide for them images for things and facts
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
in their own personal life. Thus for instance in the early age of the Vedic
Rishis in India, the hill with its rising plateaus recalled to their mind an
image of human life with its ever-soaring heights. The flowing rivers
image the ever current flow of life-energies. Not merely that. To their
religious imagination, everything in the physical universe was instinct
with Something else that stood behind. And with a daring natural to the
uninhibited, intuitively guided mind of the age, attempts were made to break
through the veils and live out the higher truths, first in the inner life and
then in the outer with the appropriate use of symbolic forms. It goes
without saying that the highest achievements of such a period were always
confined to the select of the society who took care to guard the Mysteries;
but the impress of this symbolic structure of life was left on the entire
society. Such were the societies in Early Egypt, Greece, Chaldea and India.
The whole of life, its customs, institutions came to be so formed as to be the
symbols constantly pointing to the existence and active participation of God
or Gods from above and around. In this Symbolic age religion and spiritual
practice were not parts of life; they were indeed the whole of it. The Spiri-
tual Idea standing at the centre was all-dominating. It is only wkh the
passage of time that a shift of emphasis is descernible, a shift from the acti-
vating spiritual truth around which the entire symbolic institutions were
built up to the organisation of the psychological and ethical framework to
stabilise the working of the Idea. Attention is now rivetted on the formulation
of Types. That is the Typal Age when Ideals come to be set up and pursued
for their own sake. It is the Dharma that is paramount. The spiritual
truth behind the institutions is not completely forgotten but tends to be
relegated progressively into the background. But a time does come in the
life of the society when its attention is so much absorbed in the external
machinery, external rituals and ceremonies that the Truth which they are
supposed to serve is altogether lost to sight. That is the Conventional
Age of which Medieval Europe and pre-Buddhist India provide striking
examples. 'The conventional stage of human society is born when the
external supports, the outward expressions of the spirit or the idea become
more important than the idea, the body or even the clothes more important
than the person.' (Sri Aurobindo)
The climax of this tendency is the establishment and even enforcement of
the rule of rigid hierarchies, traditional forms and authorities to the , utter
exclusion of the spirit of the Truth which has in fact departed. It is the
'petrified typal figure' that rules; the old truths have been lost, the con-
ventions and practices that aped them have also lost all significance. They
survive by sheer force of custom and habit. This chasm between the conven-
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
tional form and the original truth cannot continue to last without rendering
the position intolerable and provoking challenges to this rule of the sham.
Men can no longer tolerate the tyranny of forms and they set about with such
aids as Reason, Doubt, Scepticism, to storm and demolish the ramparts of
the whole brood of forms, conventions, types and symbols and seek to refold
the lost truth. That is the end of the conventional age and the commence-
ment of the Age of Individualism and Reason. The stifling reign of the
Yajnikas and the Pundits can only be ended by the relentless logic of Nirvana.
If the Symbolic Age sees the blossoming and exercise of the intuitive and
spiritual faculties of man and if the Typal Age marks the culture and deve-
lopment of the psychological and ethical side, the Individualist Age is
predominantly the reign of Reason. Man begins to doubt everything, ques-
tion everything and would want to be satisfied unto his reason before accept-
ing anything as valid. This is the age of scepticism, of revolt, in the crucible
of which all hitherto accepted standards and conventions have to pass, if
they are to survive and claim the allegiance of the human mind which is out
to find the Truth. The most notable outflowering of this time-spirit is to
be seeh in modern Europe. Of course Reason needs a certain touch-stone
wherewith to test its discoveries, a standard of its own for proper assessment
of values. And this the European mind has found in Physical Science. The
services of this era of physical science and development of reason in the
clearing of much ground of accumulated, dead-weight conventionalism and
stagnant orthodoxy cannot be overestimated. No doubt there has arisen
another danger from the other end viz. a reluctance to accept anything which
does not stand the test of purely empirical physical science and consequently
a threatened impoverishment of the heritage of knowledge and life open
to man. Fortunately the danger seems to have passed. In its efforts to
expand its domain,, physical science has burst its self-imposed boundaries
and has stumbled upon phenomena which can only be satisfactorily explain-
ed by sciences which base themselves not upon matter as the sole reality,
but proceed upon other, and what are increasingly coming to be recognised
as larger and more powerful, bases of existence, viz. life, thought and the
Soul. The gaze of the thinker is turned to these subtler layers of man where
he feels for the governing Truth of the Individual and the Society. The
turn is towards the subjective and marks the beginning of the Subjective
Age. Nietzsche's Will to be, Bergson's Elan Vital are the signposts
of this turn towards the enthronement of Life in the place of Matter
as the sole determining principle in existence. The attempt however was
bound to fail; for, while the life-principle is undoubtedly the most dynamic
in the constitution of man, there are other deeper and higher principles
THEORIES OF HUMAN PROGRESS
which can and do exercise a directional control over the operations of the
life-force in him and his society. Dissatisfied with their expectations from
the Life-eidolon, attempts are made to tap the other fountain-sources like
those of mind and the subliminal parts of man. The astonishing growth of
the science of psychology and para-psychology and experiments to guide men
and events, even public affairs, in the light of their conclusions are an unmis-
takable sign of this subjectivism in approach to the problems of life that is a
revealing feature of the present-day v/orld.
The central truth of life however eludes the grasp on all these levels of
the complex personality of man for the simple reason that the essentially
motivating forces and impulsions issue from a deeper truth the soul. The
soul of man is the true fulcrum of his existence and the key to the all-round
happiness of the individual and the establishment of true harmony in the
collectivity is to be found there alone from where Love and Harmony well
up in their native fount. When this fact comes to be recognised, as indeed
it is being gradually done at the present moment, that is a sure indication of
the right turn of human mind. For once it is recognised that man can find
his true happiness and goal only if he shifts his centre of activity and vision
to a deeper base within himself, that is to say, if he develops the values
of the soul, erects a synthesis out of them and lives out his life in conformity
with this guiding light to lead him, once this need is intimately felt and
recognised, man is bound to take, sooner or later, practical steps to actualise
this perception of truth in his own life. Such endeavours have been there for
long ages, it may be said, and they have not made much difference to humanity
at large. While the point may be conceded, we must note one important
difference ; n the present-day awakening to this need and the past way of
looking at the question. Today, it is not merely the individual who seeks the
inner light for his personal deliverance and upliftment. There is a general
awakening to the necessity of setting the soul-factor operate more openly and
effectively, not merely for the solution of the individual problem, but much
more as the only possible answer to the larger problem, the one remedy
for the ills with which humanity is so acutely afflicted. This tendency as it
spreads, indicates that we are on the threshold of the age of fulfilment
the Spiritual Age, Satya Yuga towards which humanity has been all along
struggling to ascend and for which it has equipped itself with a progressive
many-sided development of the various members of its corporate being.
In the light of this approach, we will see that the tneories we considered
earlier, while inadequate in themselves as explanations of the sense and
direction of the social development of man, do get after all a respectable
standing ground in the larger perspective. Each of them explains to a
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
considerable extent the mode of working of the Human Evolutionary Spirit,
its process of selection and effectuation in the material world. Even the
theological theory has value in as much as it emphasises that the movement
of the universe is not aimless; it is governed and directed with a Purpose
whatever the purpose be. It is this purposive Spirit that lends significance
to the details in its field of working and once we understand the nature
of its Goal and the route of its movement as elucidated in Sri Aurobindo's
treatment of the question we are better equipped to appreciate the past and
present trends of human thought on the progress of mankind at large.
The Mother on Divine Union
HPHERE are as many kinds of divine union as there have been mystics
to realise it. Any supra-sensible and decisive experience in the
inner consciousness is called divine union. Some Yogins, descending into
the deeps of their being, realise an ineffable peace and call it divine union;
some find themselves engulfed in an illimitable ocean of bliss or receive
the torrential influx of a mighty power and call it divine union. Some
realise the immutable Self and think that they have identified themselves
with the Absolute. Some, again, unite themselves with the Divme in their
hearts, hriddeshe, and cherish the belief that this is the highest possible
union with the Master and Lover of all creatures. Instances like these
could be multiplied ad infinitum, but that would hardly throw much light
on the nature of the union we propose to deal with here. It is, of course,
true that all these experiences and many more of the kind are genuine
not that there cannot be any faked ones and that they are undoubtedly
divine in so far as they are spiritual, but what is of capital importance is.
first, whether all of them can be at all called union, and, second, whether
they are union with the Divine.
We are, therefore, naturally led to a consideration of what we mean by
the Divine and union with Him. Most philosophies and theologies agree
to disagree on this point. We are not, of course, concerned here with those
philosophies which are avowedly atheistic or materialistic, but even among
the theistic ones, there are various conceptions of the Divine. Some postulate
Him as the extra-cosmic Lord and Master of the universe; some reagrd
Him as immanent in and co-extensive with the universe; some envisage
Him only as an all-pervading static Existence; and yet some as the inex-
pressible, incommunicable, transcendent Absolute; and so on and so forth.
The connotation of the words "divine union", therefore, varies according
to the conception one has of the Divine. And then various things are meant
by union, as we have already said above. Even in cases of authentic divine
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
union, there are differences, not only of degree but also of kind, entailing
considerable differences in their effects upon the consciousness of those
who realise it. It is a vast and extremely interesting subject, but as it does
not lie within the scope of our present object, we shall just touch upon it
and pass on to the Mother's experiences of the divine union as transcribed
in the "Prayers & Meditations". And in order to obviate a possible mis-
understanding, we shall make it perfectly clear at the very outset that the
union the Mother aspired for and realised, is not the traditional union
experienced and held in the depths of the being and strenuously guarded
against the disturbing elements of the surface-self and the surrounding
world. That is a comparatively easy achievement the outer personality
hushed, the deeper layers of the consciousness are released into activity
and the soul either plunges headlong into the eternal immobility of the
silent Brahman or enters, thrilled and transported, into the beatific embrace
of the Beloved. Or it passes, swiftly or by slow stages, through various
realms of the Spirit, bathing in their light and feeding on their delight,
into the ineffable Absolute. Whatever consciousness persists in the outer
personality, unless it is a complete trance, in which case there is a tem-
porary suspension of all movements of the external nature is left to itself
and its helpless automatism. Or sometimes, in some Yogins of exceptional
calibre, the rapturous state of inner union is reflected to a certain extent
on the outer nature; there is a reproduction or radiation of the inner peace
and purity and joyous freedom and, subject to certain conditions, a more
or less conscious and direct play of the divine Force in the natural personality
which undergoes, in consequence, a remarkable heightening and acquires
a new and infinitely more perfect and potent dynamism. But great as
these states are and equally glorious to the undiscrirninating eye of mental
intelligence, they are far from what the Mother has experienced and
expressed in so many of her Prayers and Meditations.
We shall now proceed to see what the Mother means by the Divine and
the divine union. By the Divine she means and that is exactly the view
of Sri Aurobindo, as we shall see presently the one infinite and eternal
Person, Purusha, who is at once the transcendent Author and Lord of
the universe of His own creation, which is but His own multiple self-exten-
sion and self-representation in Himself, and immanent in it as a sustaining,
guiding and consummating static and dynamic Presence. The Upanishad
describes Him with a comprehensive sweep and a penetrating vividness:
"But the divine and unborn and formless Spirit that containeth the
inward and the outward is beyond mind and life and is luminously pure,
and He is higher than the highest Immutable.
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
And of Him is born life and the mind and all the organs of sense and of
Him are Ether and Air and Light and Water and Earth that holdeth all.
Fire is the head of Him and His eyes are the sun and the moon and the
quarters are His organs of hearing and the revealed scripture is His speech;
Air is His life-breath and the universe is His heart and earth is at His feet.
He is the inner Self within all creatures.
And from Him is fire, of which the sun is the fuel, rain that arises from
the wine of the gods, and herbs that grow upon the earth; as when a man
pours his seed into a woman, many creatures are born from the Spirit.
And from Him are many kinds of gods produced and the demigods and
men and the beasts and the birds, and the breath and the nether breath,
and grain of rice and grain of barley, and faith and truth and holiness and
And the seven breaths are born of Him, and the seven tongues of the flame,
and the seven kinds of fuel and the seven kinds of offering, and the seven
worlds in which the breaths, whose chamber is in the secret heart, move
and are placed within, seven and seven.
And from Him are the seas and all the mountains and from Him flow
all forms of rivers, and all herbs are from Him, and sensible delight which
maketh the soul to abide with the material elements.
The Spirit is all this that is here in the universe: He is works and self-
discipline and Brahman and the the supreme immortality." 1
He is the eternal Ground of all things that were, are and will be. In Him
there is no division, though He seems to be divided; no dualities and anoma-
lies, though he creates them freely for the play of Ignorance with which
evolution starts from Inconscience. He is the reconciliation of all differences
and discords. He is the One, and He has become many; and this becoming
is not an illusion, but a timeless fact of the divine Reality. And yet He is
the ineffable, indefinable Absolute unconditioned, unqualitied and feature-
It is clear that this comprehensive conception of the Divme is the fusion
of all the current conceptions of religion? and philosophies, and embraces
and unifies the diverse experiences of the mystics of all ages and climes. It
does not negate or invalidate any truth of spiritual realization or give the lie
to any sane and substantial finding of metaphysical speculation. In its
luminous amplitude Vedanta joins hands with Sankhya, Tantra with Vaish-
navism, Paganism with Christianity, and even Materialism finds its essential
quest justified, rightly interpreted and enlightened, and itself united with
1 "Mundaka II, Chap. I
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
spirituality in a happy wedlock. It is a synthesis, not achieved by an intellec-
tual or emotional eclecticism, but by a global spiritual experience a syn-
thesis which reflects the manifold unity of all existence. It is an epitome
of all the conceptions of the Divine, past and present, and bids fare to be the
sovereign, dynamic spiritual conception of the future.
"An omnipresent Reality", says Srf Aurobindo in the Life Divine (Vol. I,
p. 51) "is the truth of all life and existence whether absolute or relative,
whether corporeal or incorporeal, whether animate or inanimate, whether
intelligent or unintelligent; and in all its infinitely varying and even con-
stantly opposed expressions, from the contradictions nearest to our ordinary
experience to those remote antinomies which lose themselves on the verges
of the Ineffable, the Reality is one and not a sum or concourse. From that
all variations begin, in that all variations consist, to that all variations return.
All affirmations are denied only to lead to a wider affirmation of the same
Reality. All antinomies confront each other in order to recognise one
Truth in their opposed aspects and embrace by the way of conflict their
mutual Unity. Brahman is the Alpha and the Omega. Brahman is the
One besides whom there is nothing else existent."
Now, union with this Divine or omnipresent Reality will, of course,
mean union with Him at once in all the states of His consciousness and all
the modes of His Being. Anything short of it may be a partial, but can
never be a complete or integral union. A seeker of integral union has to
be identified with the Chatushpada Brahman of the Upan^shad the
Brahman of the waking consciousness, the Brahman of the dream or subli-
minal consciousness,, the Brahman of the sleep consciousness and That of
the transcendent, absolute consciousness. When one is fully identified with
the Dwine in all these states of consciousness, one can be said to have
realised the most complete union. Thus identified, one becomes, so to
say, like the Divine Himself, at once transcendent and immanent, universal
and individual, static and dynamic, one and many; and yet this point
has to be carefully noted it is not a self-annihilation of the individual in
the Divine, for that would mean an extinction of the very centre of mani-
festation in the world. The individual persists as an eternal portion and
aspect of the Transcendent in the universe, but liberated from all limitations
and participating in the infinity and immortality of the Supreme. In a
perfect union, one holds in a divine grip and balance all the four states
described above. One is beyond all universe, inaccessibly poised in the
inconceivable supracosmic silence, and yet moves in all the multiple
movements of the world, guiding it to its ultimate destiny. No alternation of
the states, but an unbroken and spontaneous simultaneity, a firm possession
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
and a termless ecstasy of multitudinous enjoyment are the experience of
the integral divine union.
It goes without saying that we hardly ever come across any record in
the ancient and modern scriptures and mystical hagiography of the world
of such a comprehensive realisation, such a fourfold perfection of divine
union. There have been many cases of transcendent union, necessitating
a deliberate or automatic diminution of the activities of the surface nature,
or, more usually, a temporary abrogation or suspension of the active physical
self. Light has often been wooed and won, but at the expense of Life which
has gone either pale or grey with neglect. But a fusion of Light and Life,
of the One and the Many, of the Transcendent, the Universal and the
individual, of utter silence and the stupendous stir and hum of the cosmic
movement, of the Spirit and Matter in an integrated and divinized human
consciousness, is an achievement yet unrecorded in the history of spiritual
Let us now try to follow in the footsteps of the Mother as she proceeds
from one realization of union to another till the integral union is attained.
Almost in the beginning of her "Prayers and Meditations" the Mother
declares that she has realized divine union: "I said yesterday to that Eng-
lishman who is seeking for Thee with so sincere a desire that I had defi-
nitively found Thee, that the union was constant. Such is indeed the state
of which I am conscious. All my thoughts go towards Thee, all my acts
are consecrated to Thee; Thy Presence is for me an absolute, immutable,
invariable fact, and Thy Peace dwells constantly in my heart how many
times already when I pronounce it (the word "I"), it is Thou who spepkest
in me, for I have lost the sense of separativity." 2
The reader will find in this description a beautiful and living example
of divine union. "I have definitively found Thee", "All my thoughts go
towards Thee, all my acts are consecrated to Thee", "I have lost the sense
of separativity." AU these words signify a state in which the Divine is not
only discovered, but embraced and served even in the minute details of
the Mother's life. And yet, she continues, "I know that this state of union
is poor and precarious compared with that which it will become possible
for me to realise tomorrow." She is not content with what would have
been readily regarded by most mystics as the final attainment; she finds
1 There is, it is true, the legend of Yajnavalkya who wished to possess both the
worlds, ubhayameva, and also the Rajarishis (king-sages) and those "liberated in life"
(Jivanmuktas); but the exact implications of their integral realisation have to be
2 "Prayers and Meditations", p. 3.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
it "poor and precarious", for her aspiration is something much higher
and wider, something that is ind'ssolubly bound up with the very mission
of her life. And she gives expression to this aspiration in some of her
"I aspire for the day when I can no longer say "I", for I shall be Thou". 1
"Let the pure perfume of sanctification burn always, rising higher and
higher and straigliter and straighter, like the ceaseless prayer of the integral
being, desiring to unite with Thee so as to manifest Thee. 2
In the second quotation we have the key-note of her sublime aspiration:
"desiring to unite with Thee so as to manifest Thee." Not union in itself
and for itself, for that has been already realised, but union for the sake
of manifestation, that is to say, a permanent and active union in the whole
consciousness and the whole nature. It is a union in which the Mother
does not so much revel as reveal; it is a union for bridging "earthhood and
heavenhood" and making deathless "the Children of Time".
This, then, is the central truth of the Mother's aspiration, and unless
we have a clear grasp of it, it would be difficult to follow in her footsteps
through the Prayers which are a mounting symphony of dynamic union.
There are many Prayers which may appear to be self-contradictory and
self-repetitive, but that is a common experience of the human mind when it
tries to follow the movements of an infinite consciousness and force whose
incalculable flexibility and subtle self-modification baffles its comprehension.
Most of the Prayers, especially the later ones, are a kaleidoscope of a diffi-
cult perfectioning of the physical being of the Mother, without which the
union of her longing could not be realised. This physical transformation
is a revolutionary conception, extremely intricate and arduous in its process,
involving a systematic exploration of the subconscient and the inconscient
parts of the human being, and their eventual purification and illumination.
A complete union includes a union even of these parts with the supercon-
science and omniconscience of the supreme Reality.
k is true that transcendental union, which means union with the Reality
in its timeless and spaceless self-existence, is the first necessity. Unless
we attain to the Transcendent, we remain tied to Time, cooped up in the
cosmic formula. Complete liberation implies transcendence of the uni-
verse and a secure superiority to the waves of Nature. But a naked, irrevoc-
able retreat to the relationless Absolute cannot be the aim of the soul's
incarnation in the world of relativities, it can only be an important episode
1 ^Prayers and Meditations", p. 2.
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
in its spiritual evolution. If the soul has descended into Matter, it is only
to transfigure it and mainfest the Divine in its transmuted substance. If
it has descended into the relativities, it is to realise and fulfil the Absolute
in the very play of the relativities. If it has come down into Time, it is only
to reveal the Eternal in the very flux of Time. Therefore, after the transcen-
dental union, the integral union, or, in other words, the perfect and
permanent union of the whole being and consciousness of man with the
Divine. In this integral union one does not lose the transcendental union,
but only annexes to it the universal, dynamic union, and makes the inte-
grality, thus attained, the base of an unfettered action in the world. The
Mother expresses this idea in the following words : "Now I clearly under-
stand that union with Thee is not an end to be pursued, so far as the present
individuality is concerned; it is a fact accomplished long since. And that is
why Thou seemest to tell me always, "Do not revel in the ecstatic contem-
plation of the union, fulfil the mission I have confided to Thee on the earth."
"And the individual work to be pursued simultaneously with the collec-
tive work is the awareness and possession of all the activities and all the
regions of the being and the definitive establishment of the consciousness
in that highest point which will allow at once the prescribed action and a
constant communion with Thee. The joy of perfect union can come only
when what has to be done has been done."
"We must preach to all, first, union, then work; but for those who have
realised the union, each moment of their life must be an integral expression
of Thy Will through them."
Describing this union with a greater elaboration, the Mother says, "In
all the states of being, in all the modes of activity, in all things, in all worlds,
one can meet Thee and be united with Thee, for Thou art everywhere and
ever present. He who has met Thee in one activity of his being or in one
world in the universe, says: e l have found Him', and seeks no more for
anything else; he thinks he has arrived at the summit of human possibility.
What a mistake! It is in all states, in all modes, in all things, in all worlds,
in all elements that we have to discover Thee and be united with Thee;
and if we leave out one element, however small it may be, the communion
cannot be perfect, the realisation cannot be accomplished.
And that is why to find Thee is only the first step in an ascent that is
The Mother leaves no doubt in our minds as to the nature of the divine
union she calls integral. Obviously, it is not a union on the heights of the
1 "Prayers and Meditations'*, p. 156.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
being, nor is it realised only in the distant depths. It enfolds each and every
element in the infinite existence and remains the same, whatever the field
and role of action assigned to the individual. The prevalent idea that
"consciousness of the Many and consciousness of the One are mutually
exclusive states" is so strongly fixed in men's minds that it does not occur
to them that the state they describe as union or complete self-absorption
or self-annulment of the individual soul in the Reality "in which all outward
things are forgot", is but a partial, a truncated union. If the Reality is every-
where, at once in all worlds., in all states, in all beings and in all elements as
well as beyond all states, all worlds and all elements, then a complete union
with It will surely never exclude the "outward things"; for, in fact, there is
nothing that is outward, nothing that is not essentially divine and contained
in the Divine. A union that causes a forgetfulness of the outward things is
a kind of trance, a limited and localised, intensive union, not an integral one.
Tuned to an ampler key runs this other Prayer:
"O Lord, Lord, a boundless joy fills my heart, songs of gladness surge
through my head in marvellous waves, and in the full confidence of Thy
certain triumph, I find a sovereign Peace and an invincible Power. Thou
fillest my being, Thou animatest it, Thou settest in motion its hidden springs,
Thou illuminest its understanding, Thou intensifiest its life, Thou increasest
tenfold its love; and I no longer know whether the universe is I or I am the
universe, whether Thou art in me or I am in Thee; Thou alone art and all
is Thou; and the streams of Thy infinite Grace fill and overflow the
Experience succeeding to richer and wider experience tends towards the
final, dynamic identification. The path stretches interminable through
the fields of inconscience. Often the gallop slows down to a trot and the
trot to an amble; after the unspeakable rapture of a rapt union, a spell of
"harsh solitude", "a desert arid and bare", but a new Light emerges
from the heart of the solitude, a fresh gust of Force sweeps the being again
to the summits and plunges it into a union incomparably deeper and
more comprehensive than ever before. Here a word of caution is
necessary. Those who have studied Western mysticism may run away
with the idea that it is the "dark night of the soul" that the Mother
describes by the phrases, "harsh solitude" and "a desert, arid and bare",
a state of inevitable transition, of spiritual fatigue or of a desperate upsurge
of the lower impurities before their final elimination. But even a
cursory glance through the Prayers will belie this assumption. There is a
1 "Prayers and Meditations", p. 14.
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
ransition, of course, but a transition in the long and difficult process of trans-
brming the physical consciousness by a descent into the subconscient and
he inconstient and their conquest and illumination. These obscure regions
>f the human consciousness, of which we know precious little, are still domi-
lated by the twin principle of Ignorance and Falsehood, and unless their
miversal base and dynamic are mastered and metamorphosed, unless Igno-
ance is turned into Knowledge, darkness into Light, Falsehood into Truth
ind suffering into Ananda, there is no possibility of any individual, however
spiritually great he may be, achieving a complete conversion and transfor-
nation of his physical being. It is this universal work that has engaged
lie whole of the Mother's attention and labour, because it is the work which
che Divine has entrusted to her. It is, in fact, the mission of her life.
"Thy will is that from the heart of this heavy and obscure Matter I must
let loose the volcano of Thy Love and Light. It is Thy will that, breaking
all old conventions of language, there must arise the right Word to express
Thee, the Word that never was heard before; it is Thy will that the integral
union should be made between the smallest things below and the sublimest
and most vast above; and that is why, O Lord, cutting me off from all reli-
gious joy and spiritual ecstasy, depriving me of all freedom to concentrate
exclusively on Thee, Thou hast said to me, 'Work as an ordinary man in
the midst of ordinary beings; learn to be nothing more than they are in all
that is manifesting; associate with the integral way of their being; for, beyond
all that they know, all that they arc, thou earnest in thyself the torch of the
eternal splendour which does not waver, and by associating with them, it is
this thou wilt carry into their midst.' " l
Sweeping through unimaginable experiences of ineffable ecstasy and
utter desolation, the Divine lands her at long last on the threshold of the
"Marvellous Way" where the Mother feels that "in the perfect union I am
this plan and this Will, and I taste the supreme bliss of the infinite, even
while I play with ardour, precision and energy, in the world of division,
the special play Thou hast entrusted to me."
"Thy power in me is like a fountain, strong and fertilizing, which clamours
behmd the rocks, accumulating its energies to break down the obstacle and
gush forth freely to the exterior, pouring over the plain to fertilize it." 2
A further progress through the "sombre night" and the Mother emerges
into the sunlight of a deeper union which finds expression in the following:
"Thou hast taken entire possession of this miserable instrument, and if it
1 "Prayers and Meditations", p. 221.
2 ibid., p. 236.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
is not yet perfected enough for Thee to complete its transformation Thou
art at work in each one of its cells to knead it, and make it supple and illumine
it, and to class, organise and harmonise it in the ensemble of the being." 1
Describing the detailed action of transformation leading to the integral
union, the Mother says at one place:
"Little by little, the vital being was habituated to find harmony in the
most intense action, as it had found it in passive surrender. And once this
harmony was sufficiently established, there was light again in all parts of
the being, and the consciousness of what had happened became complete.
"Now the vital being has recovered in the midst of action the perception
of Infinity and Eternity, It can, through all sensations and all forms, per-
ceive Thy supreme Beauty and can live it. Even in its sensation, extended,
active and fully developed, it can feel the contrary sensations at the same
time and always it perceives Thee." 2
"Thou hast willed, O Lord, that the being should become larger and
greater. It could not do so without entering again, at least partially and
temporarily, into ignorance and obscurity. It is this ignorance and this
obscurity that it has come now to place at Thy feet as the most modest of
When the spire of the temple of perfection gleams in the distance, the
Mother hears in the silence of her being:
"By renouncing everything, even wisdom and consciousness, thou wert
able to prepare thy heart for the role which was assigned to it: apparently
the most thankless role, that of the fountain which always lets its waters
flow abundantly for all, but towards which no stream can ever remount;
it draws its inexhaustible force from the depths and has nothing to expect
from outside. But thou feelst already beforehand what sublime felicity
accompanies this inexhaustible expansion of love
"Be this love in everything and everywhere, ever more widely, ever
more intensely and the whole world will become at once thy work and
thy estate, thy field of action and thy conquest... Fight that thou may st
conquer and triumph; struggle to surmount all that has been up to this day,
to make the new Light emerge, the new example whioh the world needs." 4
Another heroic advance through the darkness of Matter culminates in
an experience of union of a unique depth and comprehensiveness:
1 "Prayers and Meditations", p. 244.
2 ibid., p. 248-49.
8 ibid., p. 249.
4 ibid., 264-65,
THE MOTHER ON DIVINE UNION
"My heart has fallen asleep, down to the very depths of my being.
The whole earth is in a stir and agitation of perpetual change; all life
enjoys and suffers, endeavours, struggles, conquers, is destroyed and formed
My heart has fallen asleep, down to the very depths of my being.
In all these innumerable and manifold elements, I am the Will that moves,
the Thought that acts, the Force that realises, the Matter that is put in motion.
My heart has fallen asleep down to the very depths of my being.
No more any personal limits, no more any individual action, no more any
separative concentration creating conflict; nothing but a single and infinite
My heart has fallen asleep down to the very depths of my being." 1
We have called this experience unique, for, we believe there is nothing in
the whole range of mystical literature to compare with it in depth and
amplitude. Here there is a perfect, a divine combination of the abysmal
silence of the Eternal and the stupendous movement of the Universal,
There is sleep u down to the depths" of the being, a state of sushupti, the
third state of the fourfold consciousness of the all-comprehending Brahman,
the state of the Consciousness of the supreme Lord of the world, Sarveshwara.
And in the very midst of that sleep there is a perception of the stir and agita-
tion of perpetual change. Is it only a perception? Then it cannot be a
total identification with the Lord of the universe. A total identification
implies a participation, not only in the infinite Peace and Silence of the
Lord, but also in the thrilled delight of the movement of His creative Force.
And we have an illustration of the participation a full and integral participa-
tion, in what follows:
"In all these innumerable and manifold elements, I am the Will that
moves, the Thought that acts, the Force that realises, the Matter that is put
This is a complete dynamic identification. The Mother is identified with
the Lord's Will, the Lord's creative Thought and the Lord's realising
Force and, at the same time, with this inert and inconscient substance, this
dark Matter which is being churned and redeemed and in which the integral
union is to be consummated. And yet, implicit in the very grain of this
identification, its inalienable base and sustenance, is the perfect identifica-
tion of the Mother's consciousness with the Consciousness of the Absolute
in its eternal Silence and Immutability. This combination constitutes what
the Mother calls integral divine union. And still there may be many more
1 "Prayers and Meditations", p. 283.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
conquests to be made and consolidated in the rolling fields of inconscience
who knows? Matter is not only obscure but obdurate. Life is complex and
convulsed with desires, and the Light invincibly insistent. What will be the
issue? Who knows? Who cares to know? Man is enamoured of the tinsel
and preoccupied with it, and has little time and less inclination to follow the
labours of one whose sole object in life has been to dig "a bed for the golden
river's song" and bring "the fires of the splendour of God into the human
Not union with the Divine in the soul alone, not in the soul, mind and
heart alone, but a union, a constant, dynamic, honey-dripping, life-trans-
forming union even in the physical being, even in the cells of the body a
complete and creative union between the Summit and the Base has been
the labour of the Mother, not for herself alone, but for mankind.
Man will one day awake from the nightmarish reality he calls his life and
garner the golden harvest of a divine humanity upon earth, but know not
who ploughed the fields and who sowed the seeds. God's Grace, even when
it takes a human form, remains invisible to the fleshly eyes of material men.
1 "Poems Past and Present": Sri Aurobindo.
The Divine Maya
HPHERE is an aspect of our nature which Sri Aurobindo has called the
physical mind. Its reliance is almost entirely on the objective and
it can, with very great difficulty only, be aware of the supraphysical or the
subjective realities. The attitude of Physical Science is the same as that
of the physical mind its test of reality is the objective, the physical, the
actual. The physical mind being an aspect of mind, sometimes loses its
faith in the reality of the objective world and doubts its own constructions.
Added to this is the loss of zest of the vital mind which is a dealer in possi-
bilities. It not only enjoys the actual but also is a hunter after unrealised
possibilities and a builder of imaginary triumph. But being stamped with
the characteristic inadequacy of the mental consciousness, the vital mind
not only loses interest in its actual and fanciful triumphs but also comes
to look upon everything as futile and ultimately meaningless. Vanity,
vanity, all is vanity then becomes the burden of its song. To justify this
aversion of the vital mind comes the thinking mind or the mind proper
with its destructive philosophies and unmakes all sense of the reality of
the world and that of life in it. The history of philosophy is an eloquent
record of the uncertainly of the mind's attitude towards and valuation of
the world and all that it means to us. There is no philosophy which has
not been controverted or at least hotly contested, and no denial of a philo-
sophy which in its turn has not been challenged. Realism, Idealism, Illu-
sionism or Nihilism seem to be the steps of the progress of philosophy.
But the wheel turns full circle and Realism asserts itself with a redoubled
Sri Aurobindo says that the vital mind's aversion has no validity in itself,
but the thinking mind's support of it has philosophical importance and
needs to be examined carefully. When the thinking mind declares the
* For the introductory instalment of this article, see Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual
1948, p. 51.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
world to be illusory, it not only asserts the proposition but builds a case
which it supports by logical arguments and constructs a formidable philo-
sophy of negation.
The positive mind, however, cannot easily believe that the world is
illusory. To convince it of the soundness of the theory, the analogy of
the drearn is given to show that it is possible for the consciousness to have
experience of things which really are not. The Illusionist theory does not
say that the world is a dream but that it is like a dream just as waking
proves dream to be unreal, so also the knowledge of reality shows the waking
world to be unreal. But still the effect of this analogy is so devastating on
the minds of men that we must carefully examine it and aslo see whether
it applies to our world experience.
One reason why dream is pronounced unreal is that it ceases and loses
validity when we wake up from sleep. But Sri Aurobindo does not consider
this a sufficient reason. All that it proves is that there are different states
of consciousness each with its own realm of realities and the fact of passing
from one state to another does not prove the unreality of the former. Dream
objects are real to the dream consciousness, the normal waking world to
the waking consciousness. So long as we are dreaming, the dream world
is the real object of our experience; the fact that it vanishes when we wake
up is normal and due to this that the consciousness necessary for its
experience, the dream consciousness^ is no longer active. Thus the disappea-
rance of dreams on waking up does not in the least touch their reality.
Those familiar with the logic of vddha or negation of the Illusionist
school of Vedanta will take exception to this. The argument is put forward
that waking negates dream and thus renders it unreal. But from what we
have said above, it should be clear that this argument confuses the real
issue by forgetting that waking is a different state of consciousness from
dream. Vddha or negation is exemplified in the celebrated snake-rope
illustration but it should be remembered that in this case, the two expe-
riences of the snake and the rope following each other belong to the same
state of consciousness, namely, waking. Similarly, if in dream itself the
snake were found to be a rope, that would be an example of negation. A
'waking rope' does not negate a 'dream snake'. The logic of Vddha., there-
fore, cannot be employed against Sri Aurobindo's doctrine that different
states of consciousness have their own worlds of reality and the passing
from one state to another does not in any way compromise the reality of
But another reason why dream is condemned as unreal is its evanescence;
it has neither an antecedent nor a sequel. Also normally it lacks sufficient
THE DIVINE MAYA
coheience and the waking being does not catch its significance. Our waking
life, in spite of a few hours' sleepy interval, is coherent, each day taking
up and continuing our world experience. But a particular night's dream
has no connection with that of the previous night or that of the next, even
dreams of the same night may not have any connection with each other.
"There is, therefore," says Sri Aurobindo, "no analogy between dream and
waking life; these are experiences quite different in their character, validity,
order. 5 ' 1
Our life too is charged with want of inner coherence and significance.
But it will be evident that this charge is made by a superficial view of life.
An inner and deeper view reveals a complete and connected significance.
The real meaning of life is revealed to an understanding deeper than the
normal. Also the apparent incoherence disappears before a knowledge
from within and is felt to be due to a lack of coherence in our own
seeing. Sri Aurobindo says life is a chain of firm sequences. Even if, as
it is alleged, the sequence is not really there in life but is a mental delusion,
the difference between dream and waking consciousness does not disappear.
There is no such thing in dream as coherence given by an observing inner
consciousness. The apparent sequence is an imitation of that of waking
life. Besides our life is to some extent controlled by the waking conscious-
ness which dream is not; "it has the nature-automatism of a subconscient
construction and nothing of the conscious will and organising force of the
evolved mind of the human being." 2 There is also no comparison between
the evanescence of dream and of life; that of the former is radical and one
dream has no relation with another, but that of life is of details only. The
totality of world experience does not suifer from evanescence. While bodies
perish, souls do not and are reincarnated; solar systems may disappear
but the universe as such continues and may be a permanent existence,
and life in it persists in spite of all kinds of disaster. The conclusion drawn
from this is that between dream and waking experiences, the analogy is
not valid and should not be used in serious philosophy.
Sri Aurobindo himself, however, takes a different view of dream than
the one described above. He does not believe that there is complete lack
of coherence and significance in dream and be denies that it is totally unreal.
In sleep it is only the waking activities that are suspended but the inner
consciousness remains active. Of these activities we remember only those
that take place in something that is nearer the surface mind. A subconscious
1 "The Life Divine", Vol. II, part I, p. 192.
2 ibid., p. 193.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
element remains there in sleep. It is both a passage of our dream expe-
riences and also a dream-builder. Many of its dream creations are built
upon circumstances taken from waking life both past and present, others
seem to be merely fanciful. Sri Aurobindo pays a tribute to the method
of psycho-analysis which "trying to look for the first time into our dreams
with some kind of scientific understanding," 1 unravels their meaning to
the waking consciousness. The interpretation of dream given by psycho-
analysis may not be entirely correct, but "it begins to look as if there were
something real behind it and as if too that something were an element of
no mean practical importance." 2
We have spoken of the subconscious both as a recorder of dreams and a
dream builder. Its place is between the conscient and the inconscient. It
is that part of our nature which borders on the inconscient; more properly
it is the inconscient struggling into half-consciousness. It must be borne
in mind that the subconscient is not the sub-mental, for Sri Aurobindo holds
that the submental aspects of our nature, namely, the vital and the physi-
cal, have an incipient consciousness of their own. Consciousness, according
to him, is not dependent on mentality and mental reaction to things; com-
pared to it, the mind is only a tiny bit. 3 "The true sub-conscious," says
Sri Aurobindo, "is the Inconscient vibrating on the borders of conscious-
ness, sending up its motions to be changed into conscious stuff, swallowing
into its depths impressions of past experience as seeds of unconscious habit
and returning them constantly but often chaotically to the surface con-
sciousness, missioning upwards much futile or perilous stuff of which the
origin is obscure to us, in dream, in mechanical repetitions of all kinds,
in untraceable impulsions and motives, in mental, vital, physical pertur-
bations and upheavals, in dumb automatic necessities of our obscurest
parts of nature." 4
Now in sleep, the physical part of us, a formation of the inconscient,
sinks back to its origin through the subconscious transcriber of dreams.
"There it finds the impressions of its past or persistent habits of mind and
experiences, for all have left their mark on our sub-conscious part and
there a power of recurrence." 5 This phenomenon of recurrence as it takes
place in sleep seerns to be fanciful and the waking intelligence cannot
V "The Life Divine," p. 195.
8 See the letters entitled "Consciousness" and The Physical "Consciousness" in
Letters of Sri Aurobindo.
4 "The Life Divine", Vol II, part I, p. 403-4-
5 ibid., p. 195. The subconscious in this respect corresponds to the china of
THE DIVINE MAYA
grasp its sense. When the subconscious activity sinks completely into the
inconscient, we name that state dreamless sleep. But in fact this is a deeper
layer of the subconscious ao.d here too the dream activity continues though
the recording layer fails to retain any of its impressions.
There is another aspect of our nature which also is a behind-the-veil
entity and which Sri Aurobindo has called the subliminal. Of this also
our waking intelligence has no awareness, In itself, however, "it is in full
possession of a mind, a lifc-force., a clear subtle-physical sense of things.
It has the same capacities as our waking being;, a subtle sense and percep-
tion, a comprehensive extended memory and an intensive selecting intelli-
gence, will, self-consciousness; but even though the same in kind, these are
wider, more developed, more sovereign. And it has other capacities which
exceed those of our mortal mind, because of a power of direct awareness of
the being, whether acting in itself or turned towards its object, which arrives
more swiftly at knowledge, more swiftly at effectivity of will, more deeply
at understanding and satisfaction of impulse". We have given this rather
long quotation because we find here noted the broad characteristics and
capacities of the subliminal, a clear idea of which is essential for an under-
standing of Sri Aurobindo's doctrine of dream. It has both an inner and
upward extension and consequently has contacts with both the occult
and the spiritual. From the former emerge in our experience what may
be called the more than normal, from the latter what may be called the
supernormal or the genuinely spiritual, both emerging through the subli-
minal, our gateway to these realities.
Now in dreamless sleep, we either go into the deeper layer of the sub-
conscious from where no intimation of its structures comes, or into the
inner chambers of our being, the subliminal mental, the subliminal vital,
the subtle-physical and lose almost all connection with our surface intelli-
gence. There may be some recording by the surface subconscious layer
of our experiences of these regions of our being if they are nearer our surface
being. The reason why we do not understand this record is that it is in
the subconscient's own transcription to which our waking mind has no
key. But there is a plunge still deeper where the record fails and produces
the illusion of dreamlessness. A growth of the inward consciousness
however reveals continuance of dream activity even there. And the dreams
of the subliminal become "a series of thoughts, often strangely or vividly
figured, problems are solved which our waking consciousness could not
solve, warnings, premonitions, indications of the future, veridical dreams
replace the subconscious incoherence." 1 Sri Aurobindo even recognises
1 "The Life Divine", p. 197.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
the possibility of full consciousness in sleep and of following the progress
of our dreams from beginning to end. We pass from state to state, from
one state of consciousness to another to the deepest or the highest level
and come back to the surface. In the course of the return the experiences
slip away from us but with a proper training and growth of consciousness,
a coherent knowledge and retention in our surface memory of these dreams
though difficult is not impossible. We remember the dreams that are
thrown up by the subconscious but the dreams of the subliminal also may
impress our sleep consciousness in such a way that they are retained by
our waking memory. When that happens dreams assume reality and a
Sri Aurobindo also makes out that the subliminal is in direct touch with
supraphysical realities and the other planes of our being. Our entry into
the subliminal enables us to make contact with them. This entry is possible
both in sleep and trance which, like sleep, is also a withdrawal of conscious-
ness from its external field. For those who are not trained in the necessary
yogic discipline and cannot enter into trance, sleep is a normal passage to the
subliminal. The experiences of the subliminal are also figured in dreams.
In fact, the Upanishad calls the subliminal the Dream Self who has "inner
intelligence and enjoys things subtle." 1 Thus we see that the dream activity
is very extensive and can be traced back to what is called dreamless sleep
state, to what Sri Aurobindo calls the super-conscient and the Upanishad
the Sleep Self or the sushuptam* because "normally all mental and sensory
experience cease when we enter this super-conscience". 3 The touch of
the superconscience mikes the normal mind almost inactive. That is why
the surface being cannot retain consciousness of contacts with it; but even
here it is not altogether impossible for the surface being to hold something
of these extraordinary contacts. It can be done "by an especial and unusual
development, in a supernormal condition or through a break or rift in our
confined normality." 4
Admittedly this unusual development is the result of an outbursi
of our now-secret faculties. But the fact that the kind of retention referred
to above is a result of a special training of the normally undeveloped faculties
of a new combination of the forces of subjective being and the discover]
of its latent states, should not make it suspect. Let us remember the simpl<
definition Sri Aurobindo has given of Yoga: it is the science of the subjectiv<
V "Mandukya Upanishad", verses 4 and 5.
3 "The Life Divine", Vol. II, part I, p. 201.
4 ibid., p. 202.
THE DIVINE MAYA
forces just as physics and other natural sciences are a study of the forces
of objective nature. Let us also remember that he never tires of pleading
for serious consideration of the deeper experiences of our subjective being.
After all experience is our main gateway to reality and yogic experiences
should not be an anathema to the metaphysician because they are unusual
to our consciousness as normally organised in us. All spiritual philosophies
in India have taken due account of these deeper subjective experiences;
we may even say that a systematic study of these has been made the very
basis of metaphysical construction in India. What is new in Sri Aurobindo
is his insistence on the possibility of living in all the states of being simul-
taneously and the holding of these strata of consciousness and their respective
worlds in a single act of knowledge. A hint at this possibility is already
contained in the Upanishad but it is in the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo that
we find the hint worked out fully for the first time. Indeed the very aim of
the Integral Yoga is so to transform the outer consciousness as to enable it
to be aware of its deeper and higher levels normally and not through any
special effort like trance etc. This gives an entirely novel, revolutionary
and harmonic view of our experience of the gross (jdgaritasthdna\ subtle
(svapnasthdna) and the bliss worlds (suslmptam> dnandabhuk). 1 The
unbroken continuity of conscious existence and its activity in the three
worlds is revealed and their connection with Turiya, the fourth firmly
The Mandukya Upanishad starts with saying that the mystic seed-sound
AUM is all. It is what has been, what is and what will be, and what is
beyond the 'three times'. 2 Then the Upanishad goes on to say that all this is
Brahman, the Self i s Brahman and that the Self is fourfold or has four
parts. It proceeds to define the four parts which are waking, dream, sleep
and the fourth, the incommunicable, non-dual Self. It is further asserted
that AUM is the Self and that AUM also exists as mdtrd or measure.
The three Matras of AUM are again waking, dream and sleep and
the incommunicable fourth is Amdtra, or transcendent of mdtrd., the
Beyond-measure. But that also is the AUM just as in the previous
description the fourth also was the Self. It is clear from the
above that the Three or the three mdtrds, namely, waking, dream
and sleep are also the Self, the Brahman, and the intention of the Upa-
nishad is that they are not unreal. It is conceded that a very strict logic
may say that the fourth alone is real. But it may be held with equal
1 "Mandukya Upanishad", verses 3-5.
2 ibid., i.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
justification that while the Turiya or the Amdtra, the fourth or the Beyond-
measure is the basic status of reality, the others are its self variations. Other-
wise, the Upanishad would not have described all the four as parts of the
Self. The logic of experience transcends the logic of the thinking mind.
The dialectic of spiritual consciousness outstrips the steps of analytic thought.
And Sri Aurobindo, following the logic of experience, considers jdgrat,
svapna and sushupti as worlds of reality, not of illusion. The result is the
restoration of a concrete sense of reality of all the three worlds and this
sense of reality proves to the hilt the inapplicability of the dream analogy
to our normal waking world experience.
The reader may wonder why the activities in the deeper states of our
being should be called dream. He may wonder because his view of dream
is very limited and he is accustomed to look upon it as a mental process
dependent on our waking experiences. But Sri Aurobindo's analysis shows
that what we call dream in common parlance is really and originally an
activity of the deeper recesses of our subjective being. Dream originates
in the subliminal and its annexe, the subconscious or even in the super-
conscience. That dream is not entirely dependent on waking experiences
is proved by the fact that people have been known to dream of things to
which nothing in their waking experience corresponded or which proved
true later in their life; in other words, waking experience has corresponded
with and confirmed the dream experience. 1 It should also be remembered
that the authors of the Upanishads following the practice of the Vedic
seers, used the terms of our daily life even for things which are quite
extraordinary and beyond the range of normal experience. Their method of
knowledge was intuitive and their use of language symbolical. Words
ordinarily used for normal things were employed to indicate supernormal
things. The practice leads us to a misreading of their minds but the ancients,
who were familiar with their methods of knowledge and the manner of their
1 Biographies of Yogis and books on 'psychical' research are full of records
of this kind of dreams, and it is not necessary to make any detailed reference
to them here. But I would like to record what a great Sanskrit scholar a savant
and a sadhak told me in Benares about a couple of years ago. I was discussing this
particular topic with him and he related this personal experience to me. In his bcyhood
once he dreamed of a visit to a place which was a wasteland. For a number of years
with intervals, he dreamed of revisits to the same place which became a plot of land
on which a house was being built. With the passage of years the building of the house
progressed and several years after the first dream, the building was completed in a
final dream. What is pertinent about this dream progressing over a number of years to
a legitimate finish, is that the dreamer actually had in his life a house built for himself
similar to the one seen in the 'serial' dream.
THE DIVINE MAYA
language, knew their intended significances all right. Obviously these
names waking, dream and sleep are figurative.
We have already said that nowhere in the Upanishad it is laid down that
these three states are unreal. On the contrary, they are described as parts
of the self-same Brahman which is fourfold. An identity which self-varies
itself into four states is the concept of Brahman presented by the Upanishad.
Sri Aurobindo concedes that the first three states may be regarded as illu-
sion, the sole reality being the fourth, the absolute supercoascience. But
he argues that "it is equally possible to regard and rank them together as
three different orders of one Reality or as three states of consciousness in
which is embodied our contact with three different grades of self-experience
and world-experience". 1 In the last analysis the two would mean the same
thing. For according to Sri Aurobindo, it is really the Reality that knows
in and through us its self-objectifications. From the side of Brahman,
susupti is the causal-bliss world which evolves into svapna or the subtle
world of which jagrat or the waking world is the gross evolution. The
individual lives normally in the last. But to realise its own secret reality,
it has to reach the Fourth through the other two which are its own states.
As the individual enters the deeper and the higher states, he realises them
as orders of cosmic existence and not merely as states of his own conscious-
The above analysis of dream makes it clear that is it not an unreal figure
of unreal things. Its analogy, therefore, as an illustrative support of the
illusionist theory is not valid. The objection may be raised that dream though
a transcript of real things, is not itself real and that similarly our waking
life is also a collection of symbols or images and not itself real. They try
to figure something that may be real but the figures that they make are not
true representations of that. Students of western philosophy will be
reminded of Representationism. The difficulty in that theory is the lack of
connection between the image and the imaged. We can, however,
answer by saying that even though dream and for the matter of that, our
waking experience, were a symbol, it was the symbol of something. It is
not a baseless construction and is grounded on the real. Besides we have
an intuition which immediately and adequately relates the image with the
imaged, the symbol with the symbolised. Intuition is a direct perception
of reality which "gives us a touch of things. 5 ' It is, according to Sri
Aurobindo, active in all our knowledge processes. Intuition is not the highest
knowledge, because though there is no interdiction between it and reality,
1 "The Life Divine'", p. 202.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
the level of consciousness in and through which it works makes its function
limited. In other words, it is coated by our mentality, vitality and physicality.
Thus though a flash of intuition puts us in direct contact with reality, its
mixture with and expression through the natural parts of our being render
it open to error or mistaken stress. Reason comes in to systematise our
intuitions and correct their errors. The adequacy of the relation established
by intuition between the image and the imaged, between the knower and
the known, is amplified by an illumined reason which observes and corrects
the errors of our sense-transcripts in which also, as has been said, intuition
works. Thus in spite of errors ou knowledge is substantially, correct. In
a sense all our knowledge is symbolirc and of the nature of image, because
it is never completely exhaustive of reality and is a partial expression of
it. Yet the symbol is a symbol of something objective; the image though
not fully adequate is of some reality and not of illusion. In the illusionist
theory, however, there is nothing to image, nothing to transcribe^ nothing
that could be expressed through symbols. For in that theory reality is a
pure indeterminable, nirvesesha, for ever void of self-determinations, and
perfectly incommunicable, avyavahdryam. Neither waking nor dream
experience can image That because That is indescribable and ineffable.
Thus the dream analogy fails us completely and though useful as a vivid
metaphor and as expressing a particular attitude towards life, it has no
place in any worthy metaphysical enquiry.
Sri Aurobindo and Plato
S. K. MAITRA
"VP7HITEHEAD has said in a passage in his book Process and Reality
that "the safest general characterization of European philosophical
tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". This clearly
proves the importance of Plato's philosophy as the source of all European
philosophy. Although 1 am not in a position to accept this view in its en-
tirety inasmuch as there are other factors than Plato's philosophy which
have been responsible for the development of European philosophy, such
as the influence of the Christian Church, the impact of the advance of
science upon the entire cultural life of Europe, etc., yet it is undoubtedly
true that one of the main formative elements in European philosophy is
furnished by Platonism.
Another reason and that is more or less a personal one why I have
chosen Plato as a representative European philosopher with whom to com-
pare Sri Aurobindo is that having dealt with the relation of Sri Aurobindo
to Nikolai Hartmann and Plotinus, I felt that it was incumbent upon me
to deal with the source from which these philosophers drew their inspiration.
In any case, the series of comparative studies which I have made in succes-
sive numbers of this Annual, in which I have tried to show how Sri Auro-
bindo's philosophy stands in relation to representative Western thinkers,
cannot be said to be complete without bringing it into relation with the
philosophy of Plato.
THE BACKGROUND OF PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY
To understand Plato, it is necessary to have a clear idea of the spirit
of Greek philosophy, of which Plato represents the optimum development,
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
The Greek spirit was one of free inquiry, unfettered by tradition or dogma.
The Greek mind first looked outwards, towards Nature, and tried to find
therein some principle which could explain the entire phenomena of Nature.
Thales, universally regarded as the founder of Greek philosophy, found
such a principle in water. Other members of his school, known as the
Ionian school, took some other natural principle, such as air, as the funda-
mental one. A change was made by Anaximander who took a more abstract
principle, namely, the Boundless, as the starting-point of his philosophy.
Greek philosophy thus far was synonymous with natural speculation,
though Anaximander gave it a tun? which took it into the realm of abstract
speculation. From now onwards Greek philosophy became more and more
fond of abstractions. This tendency reached its climax in two philosophers,
Parmenides and Heraclitus, who although they differed fundamentally
about the nature of the ultimate principle, one looking upon it as Being and
the other as Becoming, yet made the ultimate principle the most abstract
one that could be conceived. This process of abstract speculation conti-
nued in Pythagoras., who looked upon Number, as the symbol of measure
and proportion, as the ultimate principle. But in Pythagoras Greek philo-
sophy had its first touch of mysticism, which it acquired partly from the
followers of the Orphic cult and partly from its contact with Eastern, spe-
cially Indian, philosophy, for there can be no doubt that Pythagoras was
greatly influenced by Buddhism and other Indian trends of thought. How
important this fact is for understanding Plato we shall see presently.
After Pythagoras there was a reversion to the concrete, and in Empe-
docles, Anaxagoras and the Atomists, Greek philosophy returned to the
original concrete standpoint of the early lonians, with this very important
difference, that it no longer regarded the ultimate principle as one but as
many. Greek philosophy, in fact 5 in this period was caught in a wave of
pluralism. But Anaxagoras, although he was essentially an atomist, yet
introduced a principle fundamentally different from any that Greek philo-
sophy had so far conceived and which was of far-reaching importance for
the subsequent development of that philosophy. This was the principle
of Nous or Mind which was totally unknown to Greek philosophy before
him. It is true he could not make full use of this principle and it was only
externally connected with the rest of his philosophy. In fact, it was in search
of a principle that could explain motion, that he hit upon Nous. To the
end it remained in his philosophy a deus ex machina.
In fact, the credit of turning the centre of gravity of philosophy from
Nature to Mind or Consciousness goes to Protagoras, rather than to Anaxa-
goras. It was Protagoras who, with his doctrine Man is the measure of all
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
things, made a revolutionary change in the outlook of Greek philosophy,
which had hitherto been more or less a sort of natural speculation. By
making man the centre of philosophical interest, he turned the gaze of
philosophy from outside within. Henceforth Greek philosophy never
departed from this fundamental standpoint. From now on, man and his
problems came to occupy the centre of Greek philosophy.
But Protagoras had a very poor conception of the nature of man. Man
for him meant only the sensuous man, that part of man which expresses
itself only in sensations and perceptions. Thus, although Protagoras was
the author of the revolutionary change which gave Greek philosophy its
characteristic note which it preserved till the end, yet he was also responsible
for the most extreme form of subjectivism which acknowledged the reality
of only the individual man's particular sensations and perceptions.
A second revolution therefore was necessary, and this was led by Socrates.
He pointed out that it was only the universal element in man represented
by his reason or intellect, that could be placed in the centre of philosophical
interest. This, of course, gave an altogether new turn to Protagoras' homo
mensura doctrine, and intellect or reason came to occupy the place which
Protagoras had assigned to sensation and perception. Philosophy thus
became in the hands of Socrates the science of the universal as discovered
by human reason.
Plato as the true disciple of Socrates inherited this universalistic bias
of his master, but he inherited along with it the tendencies of the previous
philosophers, especially, the mysticism and love for number and measure
of the Pythagorean and the fondness for the natural philosophy of the
lonians. Thus Plato became the complete Greek, uniting in himself the
main tendencies of all the previous Greek thinkers. This no doubt accounts
for his many-sidedness, but it also accounts for the fact why it was so diffi-
cult for him to maintain a consistent philosophical standpoint throughout,
being swayed alternately by the different tendencies. On the whole he
followed the Socratic principle of reason, but it would be doing injustice
to him if we were to treat him merely as a Socratic and ignore the Pytha-
gorean and other elements in him. This, in fact, is the charm of Plato, the
wonderful many-sidedness of his genius and even his failures the gaps
in his philosophy are not without a charm of their own.
MAIN FEATURES OF PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY
Plato's philosophy, thus, is extraordinarily many-sided, and even the
enumeration of all its different features would take a good deal of space.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
In the short space at our disposal, therefore, we shall deal only with some
of its main features. These, excluding from our consideration those which
relate to his political philosophy (for we are not directly concerned with
them), may be put under the following four heads: (i) his theory of ideas,
(2) his theory of creation, (3) his conception of God, and (4) the idea of good.
I will deal briefly with each of them in the following pages.
(i) PLATO'S THEORY OF IDEAS
The most important feature of Plato's philosophy is undoubtedly his
doctrine of ideas. The ideas of Plato are Universals, which alone are the
ultimate realities for him. They are realities which are beyond sense and
which are perceived by the mind alone when it is freed from the disturbing
element of the body. They are unchangeable and invisible, and it is by
participation in them that things are what they are. For instance, the beauti-
ful is beautiful because it participates in the idea of beauty, the just is just
because it participates in the idea of justice, and so on.
Whitehead believes that the ideas of Plato are the same as his (White-
head's) "eternal objects", which he calls the Pure Potentials. But in Plato's
view they are the ultimate realities and cannot be treated as potentials.
It is not that they become real when they are actualized in the world of
experience. But the world of experience has to show its credentials to them
and is real precisely to the extent to which it succeeds in doing so. The
'actual entities' of Whitehead, in relation to which he calls the ideas pure
potentials, are, from Plato's point of view, very poor stuff, as compared
with them. Plato does not attach much importance to what we call the
'realization' or 'actualization' of the ideas. They do actualize themselves
partly or fully in our world of experience, but whether they do so or not,
they remain the ultimate realities. The reality of what Whitehead calls
'the actual entities' is in Plato's view far inferior to that of the ideas, Hart-
mann is right when he calls the ideas values, but he deviates from Plato
when he attaches so much importance to the 'realization* of the ideas. In
fact, he even goes further than Whitehead, for he calls ideas or values non-
real. This, as I have explained in my article Sri Aurobindo and Nikolai
Hartmann (Path Mandir Annual, 1945), ^ of course the height of absurdity,
for if the values have no reality, how can they be called values?
How the world of experience or the world of finite objects participates
in the ideas, Plato has not shown beyond pointing out that the world is
a creation of God who creates it after the pattern of the ideas. This^ of
course, leaves a number of problems unsolved, as pointed out in the dia-
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
logue Parmenides. Tb's dialogue also points out other difficulties in the
theory of ideas.
Burnet in his "Platonism" holds the view that the theory of ideas is not
Platonic but Socratic. Now this, we may venture to point out, is a historical
question, and does not concern us here. Even if it can be proved conclu-
sively (as it cannot) that Plato did not hold the theory of ideas but faith-
fully reproduced it in his dialogues as he heard it from his master's lips,
even then we shall be justified in including it in our account of his philo-
sophy, for what we mean by Plato's philosophy is the philosophy that is
presented in the dialogues. Plato never mentioned in the Dialogues what
his own views were. What the historical Plato's views were, it is for the
historian to find out. For us Plato's views mean what is presented in the
The chief defect to our mind of Plato's theory of ideas is his view of
them as static, devoid of all power of self-generation or creation. Another
great defect is his failure to bring any unity or order into the system of
ideas. The ideas are nothing but spiritual atoms or monads, without any
connection among themselves. Only, in the Republic, he gives one idea,
namely, the idea of good, the supreme place, but he expressly mentions
that this idea is fundamentally different from the others. His calling it
therefore the supreme idea does not help us in our problem, which is to
arrange the ideas in a hierarchical order.
(2) PLATO'S THEORY OF CREATION
I come now to Plato's theory of Creation. How does the world of plural
beings come into existence? The problem of Creation has been in fact
the stumbling-block in Greek philosophy. Anaxagoras solved it by postu-
lating the existence of the Soul or Nous which, being not of the nature of
material objects, could impart motion to them. Parmenides cut the Gordian
knot by saying that there is no creation at all, for there is only the one im-
movable eternal Being. The difficulty is also one which we meet with in
Plato, for, like Parmenides and unlike Heraclitus, he also takes his ideas
to be without any power of becoming or generation. Unlike Parmenides,
however, Plato does not deny creation but assumes the existence of a second
principle outside of the ideas but dependent upon them for the plan or
scheme of creation. This second principle Plato calls God or the Creator.
Below I give an account of creation as it is described in the "Timaeus".
"Tim. Is the world created or uncreated? that is the first question.
Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
sensible, and if sensible, then created, "and if created, made by a cause,
and that cause is the ineffable father of all things, who had before him an
eternal archetype (italics mine). For to imagine that the archetype was created,
would be blasphemy, seeing that the world is the noblest of creatures and
God is the best of causes. And the world being thus created according to
the eternal pattern is the copy of something, and we may assume that words
are akin to the matter of what they speak.
Sim. Excellent, Timaeus. I like your manner of approaching the subject,
Tim. Why did the Creator create the world? He was good and therefore
not jealous, and being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should
be like himself." 1
There are various difficulties which arise in connection with this des-
cription of Creation. The most fundamental one, as Jowett points out, is
this: In what relation does the archetype stand to the Creator himself?
since the idea or pattern of the world is not the thought of God, but a se-
parate, self-existent nature, of which creation is the copy. Jowett gives
his own reply to this question as follows: "We can only reply, (i) that to
the mind of Plato subject and object were not yet distinguished; (2) that
he supposes the process of creation to take place in accordance with his
own theory of ideas; and as we cannot give a consistent account of the one,
neither can we of the other. He means (3) to say that the creation of the
world is not a material process of working with legs and arms but ideal
and intellectual; according to his ov/n fine expression, "the thought of
God made the God that was to be". He means (4) to draw an absolute
distinction between the invisible or unchangeable which is or is the place
of mind or being, and the world of sense or becoming which is visible or
changing. He means (5) that the idea of the world is prior to the world,
just as the other ideas are prior to sensible objects; and like them may be
regarded as eternal and self-existent, and also, like the idea of good, may
be viewed apart from the divine mind."
The chief thing which we are to notice in connection with this answer
of Jowett's is that creation, according to Plato, is not a material process,
not a matter of hands and feet, but is mainly ideal and intellectual. Be-
cause it is so, therefore, Plato speaks of the idea of creation existing prior
to creation. He even goes so far as to say that the idea of God creates the
God that is to be. Of course, the latter statement becomes unintelligible
if God is to be looked upon as the Ultimate Reality. But evidently, that
1 "Timaeus", 29-32, (Jowett's translation.)
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
position is reserved for the ideas, and therefore, God must be content with
the position of being a penultimate and not the ultimate reality.
There are various other difficulties in connection with the theory of
creation as given in the "Timaeus" and evidently Jowett is not quite sure
whether a solution of them is at all possible. That is why he says, "We
must reply again that we cannot follow Plato in all his inconsistencies, but
that the gaps of thought are probably more apparent to us than to him.
He would perhaps have said that "the first things are known only to God
and to him of men whom God loves."
These words are as clear an admission as possible that there are incon-
sistencies in Plato's philosophy which it is impossible to explain away.
To our mind the main inconsistency' lies in having a double set of creators
the ideas which are the ultimate creators and God. God evidently has
not got the power to create without getting the patterns from the ideas,
and the ideas cannot also create directly because they have no power of
One difficulty which has exercised the minds of most Greek scholars
is this: Does Plato believe in creation out of nothing, or does he assume
the prior existence of matter in a chaotic state prior to creation? There
are some passages in the "Timaeus" where Plato speaks of the elements
as moving in a disorderly manner before the work of creation starts. Jowett
thinks that Plato does not attach much importance to this question. "The
real creation began", he says, "not with matter but with ideas". It is the
latter creation that Plato has in mind. Taylor is definitely of opinion that
it is wrong to suppose that, according to Plato, there was a pre-existent
chaos before the work of creation started. "If we look at the text of the
"Tirnaeus", he says, "we shall see that at any rate Plato does not mean to
say that there ever was a time before God constructed the world, since he
tells us, as Aristotle allows, that time and the world 'began' together, God
in fact making both of them. Thus the language which seems to imply a
primitive state of pure chaos cannot be meant seriously" (Plato, the Man
and His Work, p. 443).
There are other questions which arise in connection with Plato's des-
cription of Creation in the "Timaeus". Does the entire creation of mortal
and immortal beings proceed from God, or does the former only proceed
from Him? Plato definitely says that God created only immortal beings,
the creation of mortal beings being delegated by Him to inferior powers.
And the reason which Plato gives for this is that whatever is created by
God is created in His image, and therefore if the world of mortal beings
were created by Him, that world would be like the world of gods. Conse-
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
quently, that world cannot be created by Him. This means that Plato
does not want to hold God responsible for evil.
The world of mortal beings, including the world of man, is thus removed
from the sphere of God's creation. This gives man a very inferior position.
Man, in fact, is relegated to the background, the foreground being occupied
by Nature and the gods. This constitutes, as we shall presently see, one
of the main differences between Plato and Sri Aurobindo.
The seriousness of this disparagement of man in the "Timaeus" is to
a great extent toned down by the fact that the "Timaeus" does not occupy
the centre of Plato's system. As Jowett says, "A greater danger with
modern interpreters of Plato is the tendency to regard the Timaeus as the
centre of his system. We do not know how Plato would have arranged his
own dialogues. But if he had arranged them, there are many indications
that this is not the place he would have assigned to the Timaeus. We
observe, first of all, that the dialogue is put in the mouth of a Pythagorean
philosopher, and not of Socrates. And this is required by dramatic pro-
priety, for the investigation of nature was expressly renounced by Socrates
in the Phaedo. Nor does Plato himself attribute any importance to his
guesses at science. He is not at all absorbed by them as he is by the idea
of good". He goes on: "We are led to regard the Timaeus, not as the centre
or inmost shrine of the edifice, but as a detached building in a different
style, framed, not after the Socratic, but after some Pythagorean model".
This being so, not much importance is to be attached to the views expressed
in this dialogue.
It must not be supposed, however, that it has not much philosophical
value. Apart from the fact that creation is a fundamental philosophical
problem, the manner in which the doctrine of ideas is presented in this
dialogue is of considerable philosophical significance. It brings out the
strength, as \vell as the weakness of the doctrine of ideas. Its strength
lies in the fact that it treats the ideas or values as the central realities, in
terms" of which all other realities have to be expressed, whereas its weakness
consists in the circumstance that it shows no way, except by a sort of tour
de force, in which the ideas can be brought into contact with the world of
human experience. As I shall show in the sequel, this constitutes another fun-
damental difference between Plato's philosophy and that of Sri Aurobindo.
(3) PLATO'S CONCEPTION OF GOD
I now come to Plato's conception of God which I have dealt with inci-
dentally in connection with the previous topic, for the problem of creation
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
cannot be dissociated from that of God. The main question for us to
consider is this: Is the God of Plato an idea? We have seen that at least
in the "Timaeus" He is not, for God is conceived as creating in accordance
with a pattern which is fixed by the ideas. The ideas, moreover, are immo-
bile, and have no power of creation or generation. Taylor in his Plato,
the Man and His Work strongly emphasizes the fact that the God of the
"Timaeus" is not a form but a soul. He says, "God and the forms are to
be kept distinct in Plato for the simple reason that the activity of God in
producing a world "like" the forms is the one explanation Plato ever oifers
of the way in which the "participation" of things in forms is effected. If
God simply meant the same thing as the forms or a supreme form, it should
remain a mystery why there should be anydiiag but the forms, why there
should be any becoming at all" (p. 442). Thus what the "Timaeus"
offers us is the theistic conception of a personal God creating the world
according to a design.
But there is another question which arises in connection with the nature
of God; and that is the question that if God is not an idea, is He not sub-
ordinate to it? There is no doubt that for Plato the ideas are the ultimate
realities, and if God is not an idea, then certainly He cannot be regarded
as the ultimate reality, whatever power He nay possess of creating things.
In fact, tiie position of God here is very similar to that of Evara in our
Vedanta systems. If the ideas are static beings, so also is Brahrnan of the
Advaita Vedanta, and if Isvara is the active, creative principle, it becomes
so by shedding some of its reality, by becoming mdydsavala or mdydvisista,
exactly as the God of Plato becomes.
But there is one inherent contradiction in this conception of God, Plato
has distinctly stated in the "Timaeus" that God created the world because
He was good and free from jealousy. But if God is not an idea, how can
He be said to be perfectly good? Again, in one passage in the "Parmenides"
(Parm. 1340) God alone is said to have absolute knowledge. Similarly,
in a passage in the "Theaetetus", He is said to be absolute righteousness.
Now how can God be absolutely righteous or absolutely good or have
absolute knowledge, unless He is the same as the idea of righteousness or
goodness or absolute knowledge? In this respect our Vedanta systems are
more logical. They distinctly admit that there is imperfection in Isvara
on account of the presence of Maya. The matter acquires greater impor-
tance from the fact that Plato is very particular about the puriy of the world
that God creates. In all that God creates directly, namely, the worlds of
immortal beings, there is absolutely no blemish of any kind. Not only so,
but because in the world of mortal beings, to which man belongs, there
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
is evil, therefore, Plato expressly declares that God does not create it but
leaves the creation of it to inferior powers. This clearly proves that for
Plato not only is God Himself completely free from any imperfection,
but anything that He creates is likewise also completely free from im-
perfection. And yet he maintains that God is not an idea but a soul. There
are, however, some passages in the Dialogues (as, for instance, "Republic"
X -597 C ) where Plato calls God the creator of ideas. In the passage of the
Republic mentioned above, God is spoken of as the maker of the ideal bed,
which is nothing else than the idea of the bed. Plato evidently oscillates
here between two conceptions of God God as a Creator who can create
only after the pattern of the ideas, and God as the originator of the ideas.
The logic of the theory of ideas requires that the ideas should maintain
their supremacy and that even God should be made subordinate to them,
but Plato's philosophical insight seemed to revolt against this and hence
the oscillation, which is the first sign in him of a conflict between intuition
and reason. Plato remained to the end true to the Greek spirit and never
deserted the path of reason. No Greek philosopher of any eminence ever
did so. Even Heraclitus, perhaps the most mystical among Greek philo-
sophers, did not, as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out in his brilliant mono-
graph on this philosopher. But Plato did not also want to leave the guidance
of intuition, and hence the conflict. This conflict deepened in his con-
ception of the idea of good, to which I now pass.
(4) PLATO'S CONCEPTION OF THE IDEA OF GOOD
In the Republic Plato has given us a conception of the idea of good, which
is so far above the other ideas dealt with in the Dialogues, that it has proved
a puzzle to Greek scholars. Here we see the advantage which a philosopher
has over his interpreters. The philosopher gets an intuition of truth, like
the* poet, and notes it down. How he arrives at it, he does not know. If
asked to show the logical steps by which that truth can be reached, he
will in most cases fail, for he did not reach it by any logical process. You
excuse that in a philosopher, but you do not excuse it in an interpreter.
He must show the logical process which leads up to these peaks of intuition,
or he is no good as an interpreter. Now the difficulty about the idea of
good is that it is an idea and yet not an idea. It is so much more significant,
so much more universal and yet so much more concrete than all the other
ideas, that it looks more like a towering peak rising precipitously from the
valley of the ideas than any continuation of it. The following passage from
the "Republic" will give an idea of what the nature of it is:
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
Soc. Now that which imparts truth to the known and the power of
knowing to the knower is what I would have you term the idea of good,
and this you will deem to be the cause of science and of truth in so far as
the latter becomes the subject of knowledge; beautiful too, as are both
truth and knowledge, you will be right in esteeming this other nature as
more beautiful than either; and, as in the previous instance, light and sight
may be truly said to be like the sun, and yet not to be the sun, so in this
other sphere, science and truth may be deemed to be like the good, but
not the good; the good has a place of honour much higher. What a wonder
of beauty that must be, which is the author of science and truth, and yet
surpasses them in beauty; for you surely cannot mean to say that pleasure
is the good? 1
Plato further explains (through the mouth of Socrates) that although
the good may be said to be not only the author of knowledge of all things
known, but of their being and essence, yet the good is not essence but far
exceeds essence in dignity and power.
From this account of the idea of good, there is no doubt that it represents
Plato's highest conception of reality. This is clear from liis description of
it as "the author of science and truth, and yet surpasses them in beauty".
There are certain characteristics of it which deserve careful consideration,
In the first place, as its name "idea of good' suggests, it is to be looked
upon as a value and not merely as an existent. But it is not a mere ethical
value but something much more universal than that, something in which
the ethical value is merged as a smaller whole into a greater whole. No
greater mistake can, I think, be committed than to regard it as an ethical
value. It is a metaphysical value. Its being termed good only draws our
attention to the fact that it is not a mere being in the sense of a mere exi-
tent; nor is it merely an essence, understanding by essence a logical essence.
But it is the ultimate metaphysical value. It is something which, in the
language of the Gttd, may be described as that "by obtaining which, no
other gain is deemed higher". We have, in fact, here one of the clearest
and strongest affirmations of the philosophy of values ever found in philo-
It is a trite remark that Plato here breaks his attitude of neutrality to-
wards the different ideas. Plato does here something so very revolutionary
that to describe it as merely doing this is saying nothing. It would, more-
over> give a wrong idea of the change brought about by this new idea. It
1 "Republic," 6, 509, Jowett's translation.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
is not that Plato picks up here one idea from the list of ideas and gives it
a pre-eminent position, but this idea was not present in his previous scheme
of ideas. It is an altogether new idea, the like of which did not exist in
his theory of ideas. Giving the topmost rank to this new idea, not existing
before in his scheme of ideas, does not mean abandoning his attitude of
neutrality towards the other ideas. So far as the ideas of which he treated
before are concerned, his attitude remains as neutral as before. What really
happens after the introduction of the idea of good is that the old theory of
ideas is scrapped, scrapped except in name.
Taylor in his book Plato., the Man and His Work (pp. 288-89), has dis-
cussed the question whether the idea of good can be identified with God.
I will give his views in his own words. He says, "We cannot answer this
question correctly except by making a distinctio sometimes forgotten. If
the question means "is the Form of Good another name for the God recog-
nized in the Platonic philosophy"?", the answer must be definitely No 5 for
the reason given by Burnet, that the good is a forni^ whereas God is not
a form but a "soul", the supremely good soul... But jf we mean "is the
good spoken of in the Republic identical with what Christian divines and
philosophers have meant by God?", the answer must be modified. In one
most important respect it is. The distinguishing characteristic of the "Form
of Good" is that it is the transcendent source of ail the reality and intelli-
gibility of everything other than itself. Thus it is exactly what is meant in
Christian philosophy by the ens realissimum, and is rightly regarded as
distinct from and transcendent of the whole system of its effects or mani-
festations... In other language, it transcends the distinction, too often
treated as absolute* between value and existence".
Now all this is no doubt technically true. The idea of good, being an
idea, cannot be identified with God, for God is a soul and not an idea.
We may, however, ask: What is a soul? Now Taylor has given at p. 306 of
the same book, quoting from Phaedrus (246a), the following definition of
the soul: "The soul may thus be rigorously defined as "that which moves
itself"." So the question reduces itself to this: Does the idea of good as
presented in the "Republic" possess any dynamism, or is it merely static?
It is true that Plato has treated all his other ideas as static. But
the idea of good, as I have pointed out already, is a very different kind of
idea, and we must not blindly attribute to it all the qualities or absence
of qualities that characterise the other ideas. Now if we examine carefully
the description of the nature of the idea of good which we quoted above,
we find that the idea of good is described as "that which imparts truth to
the known and the power of knowing to the knower". Again, it is called,
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
"the cause of science and of truth", "the author of science and of truth".
Now do not these expressions show that the idea of good possesses dyna-
mism and is not purely siatic as the other ideas are? I admit that Plato
has not expressly said that it possesses self-initiated motion, but the words
"imparting truth" and "the cause of science and truth" undoubtedly give
this idea the dynamical quality of projecting itself out of itself to give rise
to truth. I shall explain presently why Plato is somewhat halting in his
ascription of any dynamic quality to the idea of good.
Taylor further says that if by God is meant the God of the Christian
divines and philosophers, then he has no objection to admitting that the
Platonic idea of good is God. Now I would ask Taylor: Do the Christian
divines and philosophers not insist upon God's possessing the power of
self-initiated movement? Are they content with an inane God who cannot
create or generate? If the idea of good cannot be Plato's God because it
does not possess the power of moving itself, how can it be the Christian
divines' God who also similarly insist upon God possessing the power of
To my mind the explanation of the halting character of Plato's ascription
of a dynamic quality to the idea of good is quite obvious. Plato had a vision
or intuition of the idea of good as the ultimate principle of the universe.
As such he felt it clearly as endowed with the necessary dynamism to enable
it to function as such. But then his logic stood in his way. He had already
made a divorce between the ultimate metaphysical realities and a Creator
who is metaphysically a subordinate principle but is dynamically supreme.
His logic always clipped the wings of his metaphysical flights. He was,
as it were, a prisoner of his reason or logic. If he had been born in another
country he would have thrown logic to the winds and given free play to
his flights of metaphysical intuition, but being a true Greek, he could riot
do so and had to make a compromise with reason.
Jowett in his introduction to the "Republic" speaks thus of the idea of
good: "The Idea of good is so called only in the P.epublic, but there are
traces of it in other dialogues of Plato. It is a cause as well as an idea (italics
mine), and from this point of view may be compared with the creator of
the Timaeus, who out of his goodness created all things. It corresponds
to a certain extent with the modern conception of a law of nature, or of
a final cause, or of both in one, and in this regard may be connected with
the measure and harmony of the Philebus. It is represented in the Sym-
posium under the aspect of beauty 5 and is supposed to be attained there
by stages of initiation, as here by regular gradations of knowledge. Viewed
subjectively, it is the process or science of dialectic". In another passage
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
he says, "This self-proving unity or idea of good is a mere vision of which
no distinct explanation can be given, relative only to a particular stage in
From these quotations, one thing is quite clear., namely, that Jowett is
not in a position to make up his mind as to how to characterize the idea of
good. In one and the same sentence he calls it a cause and even compares
it with the creator of the Timaeus, and then again describes it as an idea,
I think Jowett is not to blame for this. Plato is himself not quite sure what
it is. His intuition and his logic are in conflict here. To the end of his days
he could not shake himself free from the narrowness of the Eleatic or Me-
garian logic, much as he tried to criticise it in the "Parmenides" and the
"Sophist". That logic could not give any dynamic character to the meta-
physical ultimate. Motion, if it is to come at all, has to come from an in-
ferior source. This accounts for Plato's not having a proper theory of
Evolution. In fact, that is the chief weakness of Plato's philosophy. Here,
as we shall presently see, Sri Aurobindo scores a distinct triumph over
Plato. But where Plato's logic failed him, his intuition guided him. That
is why in the idea of good he had a vision of a reality which could function
as a true metaphysical ultimate, but his logic could not suggest the appara-
tus by which it could do so, and so this grand conception remained philo-
sophically comparatively barren. It is not surprising, therefore, that Plato
tried to examine critically the bases of the Megarian logic, which was his
own logic, with a view to finding out whether any improvement could be
effected in it, but as we know, beyond achieving its negative object, that
is, showing the inherent weakness of the Megarian logic, this critical exa-
mination did not lead to any positive result, and it was left to a philosopher
who flourished two thousand years later, namely, Hegel, to construct a
gigantic system of logic out of the materials furnished by Plato in the Par-
It is not, however, entirely true to say that the barrenness of the idea
of good is due entirely to the inadequacy of Plato's logic. It is also due.
as we shall see presently, to the inadequacy of the idea of good itself.
ESTIMATE OF PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY
From the account we have given above of some of the main features o
Plato's philosophy, two things emerge clearly: First, the grandeur and no-
bility of its conception and the architectonic beauty of its construction,
Starting from the idea of good it comprehends in its gigantic sweep the
vast panorama of Nature and Man, not excluding even the region of the
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
gods. It places before man certain grand ideals to be striven after: the
ideal of the philosopher-king) the science of dialectic with its crowning
phase, the knowledge of the idea of good, the ideal State, and so on. It
stresses that aspect of reality which has to do with value, rather than with
existence or being and gives a reorientation of the whole of human culture
and the entire life of man from this point of view. It leaves us agape with
wonder at the stupendousness of the task it has set before itself and the
untiring energy and labour of thought that its great author has bestowed
But secondly, we are conscious also of the gaps which his philosophy
has left, such as the gap between the ideas and the sensible world, the gap
between the idea of good and the other ideas, the gap between the ideas
and God, and the gap between the soul and the body. As Gomperz has
said (Greek Thinkers^ Vol. Ill, p. 262), if Plato is many-sided he is also
equally one-sided, pursuing the path which he chooses with the utmost
self-confidence, untroubled by difficulties that are often too patent. This
is one of the reasons why there are so many gaps in his philosophy. But
I think the main reason is that Plato was a seer rather than a philosopher
in the narrow sense of the word. He had a vision of truth which he des-
cribed in the Dialogues. Like a true Greek he, of course, always gave a
rational foundation for his vision. But his reason could not keep pace
with his intuition, and therefore there were big gaps in the rational
structure which he erected for supporting his intuitions.
Paradoxical as it may sound, the real influence of Plato's philosophy is
due to the fact that it was not a closed system. Everybody could find in
it some new idea 3 some new inspiration. Realists, idealists, orthodox Church-
men, protestants in religion and philosophy, sceptics, materialists have all
found in Plato a source of never-failing inspiration. Even Whitehead looks
upon Plato as his philosophical father or godfather. In fact, I began this
article with a quotation from Whitehead^ in which he says that the whole
of Western philosophy is nothing but so many footnotes to Plato. This
enormous influence Plato could never have acquired if his philosophy
had been a closed sytem.
One thing I feel bound to say in the interest of truth and in justice to
Plato on the subject of gaps in his philosophy. It is not true to say that
Plato is not conscious of them. On the contrary, his philosophy is a series
of revisions rendered necessary by the discovery of gaps in the earlier pre-
sentations of it. The most glaring example is the criticism of the doctrine
of ideas which we find in the dialogue "Parmenides". So thorough and
searching was the criticism that Uberweg thought that the entire dialogue
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
was spurious. This view, of course, is absurd, as Jowett has pointed out
in his introduction to his translation of this dialogue. Fortunately this
view is not shared by modern Greek scholars. Burnet in his Platonism
holds an even more radical view, for he looks upon the doctrine of ideas
as not Platonic at all but Socratic. Of course, he holds this view not merely
on the ground of the criticism of this doctrine in the "Parmenides", but also
on other grounds. This view, however, he does not hold in his Greek Phi-
losophy: Thales to Plato. We hold therefore with Jowett that the criticism
of the doctrine of ideas in only an illustration of the fact that Plato's Phi-
losophy has had a development and has undergone a continuous process
of revision at his hands.
COMPARISON WITH SRI AUROBINDO'S PHILOSOPHY:
THE GREEK SPIRIT AND THE INDIAN SPIRIT
In comparing Plato with Sri Aurobindo, the first thing that strikes one
is the difference between the Greek spirit and the Indian spirit. The Greek
mind, as I have already pointed out, is at first directed outwards, and it
is only at a later stage, that it is directed inwards. In fact, although Prota-
goras was the first to make this change, it was not before Socrates that
the Greek mind was really turned inwards. But it never lost its original
tendency, the tendency to look outwards. The result was that the purely
idealistic approach, the approach from the standpoint of consciousness,
was never fully established in Greek philosophy and was always liable to
be disturbed by the other mode of approach. This is the cause of the
oscillation we have noticed in Plato between the idealistic and the naturalistic
standpoint. This is also the reason why he could not interpret the grades
of reality in terms of the grades of consciousness^ and why in cosnequence 5
intuition and reason fell apart. All the gaps in Plato's philosophy, may
in fact, be explained by the seesaw movement between the purely idealistic
and the naturalistic outlook. His idealism appeared in the form of brilliant
flashes of intuition, but his logic was coloured by his naturalism, and the
gap between the two could not be bridged. The fault was not entirely
that of his logic, it was also partly that of his intuitions, which, although
they were brilliant, could not give a steady light.
The spirit of Indian philosophy is very different from this. It was from
the beginning turned inwards. The highest reality was always conceived
as Atman or Self, and the duty of man was "to see, hear,, think and con-
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
template it" ("dtmd vd are drastavyah srotavyo mantavyo nididhydsitavyah"}.
Knowing the reality within, the Indian mind discovered it also outside.
This discovery was the discovery of the all-pervading character of Atman:
"yadeveha tadamutra^ yadamutra tadanviha" ("what is here is also there;
what is there is also here"). The interpretation of the universe, therefore,
which the Indian seers gave was always from the standpoint of conscious-
ness. The different grades of reality were explained in terms of the different
grades of consciousness. Consciousness at the level of intuition revealed
one grade of reality, that at the level of reason another, and so on. There
was thus no opposition between reality as seen through one grade of con-
sciousness and that as envisaged by another grade. Not only that, but the
highest consciousness, which may be called the supreme intuition, was
conceived as uniting all the lower forms into one harmonious, homogeneous
Sri Aurobindo.> as a true descendant of our ancient sages, has kept true
to this standpoint. He looks at the whole universe from the standpoint of
the highest consciousness, which he calls Sachchidananda. Unlike the
Greeks, who oscillated between the naturalistic and the idealistic inter-
pretation of the universe, Sri Aurobindo looks upon the naturalistic inter-
pretation itself as one that is made from the standponit of consciousness
at one stage of its evolution.
Paradoxical as it may sound, even the idealistic interpretation is made
from the standpoint of the same level of consciousness. This level is what
we call mental consciousness. Mind is incapable of framing a perfect syn-
thesis, and therefore, all its constructions exhibit gaps or contradictions.
Even the intuitions of Plato had not completely freed themselves from
mental elements, and therefore, there was a clash between them and his
logic or reason. How this standpoint enables Sri Aurobindo to steer dear
of the difficulties of Plato's philosophy, I shall explain in the next paragraph.
THE TRAGEDY OF PLATO: HOW SRI AUROBINDO AVOIDS IT
Plato's philosophy, thus, is haunted by a sense of its incompleteness:
its intuition and reason cannot be reconciled with each other. This is its
great tragedy. It may be removed by lowering the intuitions, by doing
away, for example, with the idea of good. This was the solution offered
by Aristotle. He did away with the idea of good, the philosopher-king
and all the other great ideals revealed by Plato's intuition. Or the remedy
may be applied to logic by raising it so that it may be made a fit vehicle for
the intuitions. This second method was that which was adopted by Hegel.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
Sri Aurobindo's solution is totally different from either of these. He
avoids Plato's tragedy not by lowering the intuitions, nor by raising the
logic, but by still further raising the intuitions. His diagnosis of Plato's
tragedy is that it is due to Plato's having imperfect intuitions. The intui-
tions that Plato had were inutitions of abstract truths, and therefore did not
have the potency to project themselves out of themselves. The highest intui-
tions create their own logic and do not have to wait for logic to come up
to their level. It is one of the cardinal principles of Sri Aurobindo's philo-
sophy that intuitions differ very much in value. This is one of the main
points of difference between Sri Aurobindo and most of those Western
philosophers who also rely partly or wholly upon intuitions.
Whatever that may be, it 'is undoubtedly true, from Sri Aurobindo's
point of view, that Plato's intuitions were imperfect, as they were intuitions
of abstract truth. His idea of good, grand as it is, is yet nothing but an ab-
straction. It is impossible with such a principle to have any kind of rela-
tionship with the world of sensible experience. It is dead before it is born,
and it is useless to try to make it work by offering it a more suitable logic.
The only remedy is to raise it to the position of a concrete universal.
PLATO'S PHILOSOPHY is RATHER STATIC AND HAS NO
THEORY OF EVOLUTION
One of the most serious defects in Plato's theory of ideas is that the ideas
as he conceives them are absolutely static and have no power of generation
or creation. It is only the souls that have got this power, and therefore God
as the highest soul performs the functions of creation in his philosophy.
One consequence of this static view of the ideas is that they cannot bring
themselves into any sort of connection with the world of sense. The only
way in which a connection is effected is through the agency of God. But
the God of Plato is only an underdog, having the power to create only
according to the pattern seen in the ideas. Thus the connection between
the idfeas and the world created by God is a somewhat remote one. In the
case of the human world it is still more remote, for God does not create
it directly but leaves it to the inferior powers. This g ; ves the human world
a much lower status than what it would have if it had direct connection
with the ideas. Although it is supposed to participate in the ideas, such
participation can only be very imperfect.
This defect we notice also in other systems of philosophy which take a
similar static view of their ultimate principle. For instance, we notice it
in the philosophy of Spinoza whose Substance or ultimate principle is also,
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
like the ideas of Plato, static. There is no passage in Spinoza from Subs-
tance to the world of modes or finite beings, and he has therefore to fall
back upon all sorts of devices, such as that of infinite modes, in order to
bridge the gulf between the two. We notice it also in the philosophy of
Hartmann who has borrowed his main ideas from Plato: the values
of Hartmann cannot bring themselves directly into contact with the
Another consequence of his static view of the ideas is that Plato has no
theory of evolution. There is no goal or destination towards which the
world may be said to be moving. Individual souls can, of course^ imporve
themselves by education, and if they are sufficiently enlightened, they can,
through instruction in dialectic, have even a vision of the idea of good,
but there is nothing in Plato which gives us any indication of the whole
world marching to a higher goal. On the contrary, the nature of the world
has been determined beforehand by the manner of its creation, and con-
sequently the possibility of such advance is ruled out. We shall discuss
this question when dealing with the problem of evil.
EVOLUTION, HOWEVER, IS THE SOUL OF SRI AUROBINDO'S
The contrast here with Sri Aurobindo's philosophy is striking. His
theory of evolution is the pivot round which the whole philosophy of Sri
Aurobindo moves. Evolution is the movement which is the reverse of the
movement of involution or creation. It is because of the descent of the
Spirit into matter, life and mind, that these can ascend to the higher regions
of the Spirit. Because the Spirit in creation has involved itself in matter,
life and mind, therefore, matter, life and mind feel an impulse to rise to
their Source. Evolution, thus, is a sort of home-sickness of the Spirit.
The Spirit has descended into the lowest particle of matter; therefore,
matter seeks to evolve into something higher than itself, namely life. There
is a descent of the Spirit into life, and therefore, life seeks to rise to some-
thing higher than itself mind. Similarly, there is a descent of the Spirit
into mind;, and consequently mind must ascend to something higher than
itself, namely, Supermind. The highest principle so far evolved is mind.
But evolution cannot stop with mind^ for mind is not its last word. It must
move further up and come to the next stage, namely, Supermind.
There is no uncertainty about it: it is bound to do so by the necessity
which is forced upon it by the process of involution or creation. But
when it does so, there will be a radical change in the nature of the
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
world, for with the emergence of Supermind the process of evolution be-
comes a process through knowledge, the previous process being through
Such, in brief, is Sri Aurobindo's scheme of evolution. It is the most
optimistic scheme ever conceived by the mind of man. What concerns us
more particularly here, however, is the picture which it presents to us of
the goal of human life and society. I cannot do better here than quote a
passage from his recent book The Human Cycle, where it is set forth as
clearly as possible:
"The true and full spiritual aim in society will regard man not as a mind,
a life and a body, but as a soul incarnated for a divine fulfilment upon earth,
not only in heavens beyond, which after all it need not have left if it had
no divine business here in the world of physical, vital and mental nature.
It will therefore regard the life, mind and body neither as ends in them-
selves, sufficient for their own satisfaction, not as mortal members full of
disease which have only to be dropped off for the rescued spirit to flee
away into its own pure regions, but as first instruments of the soul, the
yet imperfect instruments of an unseized diviner purpose. It will believe
in their destiny and help them to believe in themselves, but for that very
reason in their highest and not only in their lowest or lower possibilities.
Their destiny will be, in its view, to spiritualise themselves so as to grow
into visible members of the spirit, lucid means of its manifestation, them-
selves spiritual, illumined, more and more conscious and perfect. For
accepting the truth of man's soul as a thing entirely divine in its essence,
it will accept also the possibility of his whole being becoming divine in spite
of Nature's first patent contradictions of this possibility, her darkened
denials of this ultimate certitude, and even with these as a necessary earthly
starting-point. And as it will regard man the individual, it will regard
man the collectivity as a soul-form of the Infinite, a collective soul myriadly
embodied upon earth for a divine fulfilment in its manifold relations and
its multitudinous activities. Therefore it will hold sacred all the different
parts &f man's life which correspond to the parts of his being, all his
physical, vital, dynamic, emotional, aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, psychic
evolution, and see in them instruments for a growth towards a diviner
living. It will regard every human society, nation, people or other organic
aggregate from the same standpoint, subsouls, as it were, means of a
complex manifestation and self-fulfilment of the Spirit, the divine
Reality, the conscious Infinite in man upon earth. The possible godhead
of man because he is inwardly of one being with God will be its one solitary
cree<J and dogma." (The Human Cycle, pp. 281-82)
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL: PLATO'S ATTITUDE CONTRASTED
WITH THAT OF SRI AUROBINDO
Plato's philosophy, optimistic as its general tone is, regards evil as a
permanent condition of human beings. Although for Plato there is no moral
evil, for, like his master Socrates, he does not believe in wilful wrong-doing,
yet he admits the existence of evil in the form of metaphysical evil or the
presence of error and ignorance. Although man's will is not perverted,
yet man's intellect is defective, and this defect is something which can
never be cured, so long as man's soul is chained to the body. And that is
why, as he says in the "Phaedo", the philosopher longs to die. In the "Phae-
drus" he says the soul is like a charioteer driving a pair of winged steeds. 1
In the case of the divine souls, both the steeds are good, but in the human
soul one of the steeds is bad. This unruly steed caused the charioteer to
see imperfectly at the time of the festival of souls, in which they visited
the heaven above the heavens. So the soul lost her wings and fell to earth,
and it then acquired an earthly body. It is this complex of body and soul
which we call man.
From these accounts it appears that Plato looks upon evil as a necessary
condition of human life on earth. The only chance for human beings to
escape it is through rebirth. In the "Phaedrus" Plato says that on the manner
in which he makes use of his life on earth depends a man's condition after
death. And only in ten thousand years can the soul of man return to her
primitive state except through a life of philosophy or a pure and noble
love. In the "Timaeus", as I have already pointed out, Plato's attitude is still
more uncompromising, for even the creation of mortal beings he leaves
to inferior powers, as God can only create beings in His own image. This
certainly leaves man in a permanently helpless condition so far as escape
from evil is concerned.
The "Republic" apparently gives us the hope that at least the philosopher
who is "the spectator of all time and all existence", and has knowledge of
the idea of good, is freed from all taint of evil. But the "Phaedo" expressly
declares that it is the philosopher who particularly longs to die, for he
realizes that so long as he is not freed from the body, there is no chance
for him of escaping evil. This clearly shows that even the philosopher
is not free from evil.
For Sri Aurobindo, on the contrary, evil is not a permanent feature of
human society. There is evil, no doubt, at the present stage of human society.
1 The similarity of this idea with that of Kath. 1.3.3-4 is too striking to escape notice.
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
But its present stage is not the highest of which that society is capable.
Evil is only a phase in the evolution of man. It arises at a certain stage of
human evolution when certain conditions prevail and disappears with the
disappearance of those conditions. The world as such is not evil. In the
beginning when the world was enveloped by the darkness of inconscience
there was no evil. So also in the end when the superman will emerge there
will be no evil. It is only in the middle stage which represents where we
are at present, that there is any evil.
The question which arises in connection with the problem of evil is:
How does evil originate in this world? The answer from Sri Aurobindo's
standpoint as I have given it in my book Studies in Sri Aurobindo's Philosophy
"When truth exists as a whole on a basis of self-aware oneness, evil cannot
enter. It is only when there is a disturbance of this self-aware oneness,
that evil can enter. This happens when the separate divisions in their
self-assertiveness offer opposition to the unity of consciousness-force which
created the divisions. Separateness cannot cause evil, but when separate-
ness is combined with this kind of self-assertiveness, which we may call
aggressive self-assertiveness, an imperium in imperio> is set up, and it is then
that we have the beginning of evil. The name which Sri Aurobindo has
given to this aggressive self-assertiveness is Egoism." (ibid. p. 116).
CAN PLATO AND SRI AUROBINDO BE CALLED MYSTICS?
I come now to a question on which there have been considerable differences
of opinion: Can Plato and Sri Aurobindo be regarded as mystics? I have
already dealt with the question whether Sri Aurobindo can be regarded
as a mystic in my article Sri Aurobindo and Plotinus which I contributed
to this Annual three years ago. As I said there, Sri Aurobindo cannot be
called a mystic simply because he takes the help of intuition as a means of
discovery of the highest truth. The test is whether he employs it as the
sole "means of discovering truth. Judged by this test, I showed that Sri
Aurobindo could not be regarded as a mystic, because he had never dis-
carded reason and other lower levels of consciousness, but on the contrary,
gave their due place to them. I even showed there that Plotinus could not
be regarded as a full-fledged mystic, because it is only in the last part of
the quest for truth that the relied upon intuition, the rest of his philoso-
phical structure being based upon reason.
The same thing can be said of Plato. Although there is a good deal of
the mystic element in his philosophy, as for instance, in his conception of
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
the idea of good, yet he cannot be called a mystic. Platonism cannot be
dubbed mysticism simply because it believed in intuition as a source of
truth. To show that it is mysticism it is necessary to prove that it relied
upon intuition and upon no other source for the knowledge of truth. This,
of course, it is impossible to prove, for Plato was a true disciple of Socrates,
who asserted against Protagoras that it was not sensuous perception but
reason which alone could reveal the truth.
There are undoubtedly traces of mysticism in Plato. As I have already
said in connection with the background of Plato's philosophy, the influence
of Pythagoras is very strong upon it. This influence in fact is one of the
main sources of the mystic element in it. In the mystic symbolism of num-
bers which is found is the "Timaeus" we see a clear influence of Pytha-
gorean mysticism. Not only that, but the entire description of creation
from the mouth of a Pythagorean philosopher is in a deeply mystic vein.
But it was not from Pythagoras alone that Plato derived the mystical trends
in his philosophy. During the twelve years that he spent in travel after the
death of Socrates, he visited Egypt, Italy and Sicily and possibly also some
other countries, and it is quite possible that he not only came in contact
with Orphic mystics but also with Oriental mysticism. Be that as it may,
there are undoubted traces of mysticism in his writings. All his great con-
ceptions, such as that of beauty in the "Symbosium" or love in the "Phae-
drus" or the idea of good in the "Republic" are the products of such mys-
ticism. The "Phaedo" is through and through mystical. Its description
of the body as a prison and the longing of the philosopher for release from
the world of sense into the bliss of the soul-life is deeply mystical. If we
are to single out, however, one feature of Plato's philosophy which is more
mystical than any other, it is his idea of good. The philosopher has a "vision"
of this idea of good. It is something ineifable; in the words of our ancient
sages, something from which "words come back with an unfulfilled mind".
It is not the kind of reality as we ordinarily conceive, but something
which absolutely transcends it. It is therefore somewhat surprising that
Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison in his article "Mysticism" (Encyclopaedia
Britannica, Eleventh Edition) refuses to recognize any mysticism not only
in Plato but also in the entire Greek philosophy prior to Neo-Platonism,
He dismisses the question of mysticism in Greek philosophy summarily
by saying, "For opposite reasons, neither the Greek nor the Jewish mind
lent itself readily to mysticism, the Greek, because of its clear and sunny
naturalism; the Jewish, because of its rigid monotheism and its turn to-
wards worldly realism and statutory observance". Greek philosophy cannot
be summarily dismissed in this way as sunny naturalism: this description
SRI AUROBINOO MANDIR ANNUAL
will certainly not fit the philosophy of Heraclitus or Pythagoras or Plato.
Plato's philosophy, therefore 3 undoubtedly shows a good deal of mystical
tendency, but it would not be correct to characterize it as mysticism, for
it does not believe that the mystic vision is the only way to truth. It has
never lost its faith in reason, but has always been careful to join an elaborate
rational structure to the supreme truths revealed by mystic vision. Of
course, the joints have in many cases been rather weak, as I have tried to
point out, but this does not entitle us to say that Plato is a mystic.
Reverting to Sri Aurobindo, we find that mysticism does not touch
merely the fringe of his philosophy, but that it has contact with the whole
of his philosophy. But mysticism has undergone a complete transformation
in his hands. It has shed its awful aloofness and mixes freely with other
ways of approaching truth. If fact, from Sri Aurobindo's point of view,
there is nothing mystic about mysticism.
It is a great mistake to treat mysticism as a sort of Pope or Dalai Lama
living in isolated grandeur. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that
the mystic experience has value only when it is joined to other kinds of
human experience. Detached from them it becomes a mere flash of intui-
tion which quickly disappears without leaving any permanent mark. Such
a mystic experience is hardly of any value. What is wanted is what I may
call a process of acclimatisation of the mystic experience, that is to say, a
process by which the mystic experience is brought into contact with reason
and sensuous experience, and even something lower down the scale, namely,
our vital experience. The mystic experience, if it is made to go through
this process, is of course of great value, as it is the means of raising the
lower forms of experience, the mental and the vital experience, to a higher
Another thing upon which great stress is laid by Sri Aurobindo is that
there are various grades of mystic experience. All consciousness, in fact,
above the mental level, such as the higher mind, the illumined mind, in-
tuition, the overmind and the supermind may be called mystic. But there
is a vast difference, both in content and in value, between the consciousness
which is just above the mental, such as the higher mind, and the supra-
mental consciousness. It shows therefore only our ignorance of these
different grades if we give the same name 'mystic' to all of them.
It is wrong to suppose that the mystic experience will always maintain
its distance from normal human experience. For Sri Aurobindo a time is
bound to come when the normal human experience will overtake it and
even go beyond. Human consciousness is bound to evolve to something
higher than what it is to-day. The result is that what we take to be super-
SRI AUROBINDO AND PLATO
normal to-day will be the normal state of human consciousness in the
higher stages of its evolution. What we call mystic experience comes from
a source slightly higher than our normal experience to-day. There are
still higher forms of consciousness of which even our highest mystic ex-
periences do not give us anything more than the faintest inkling. Our
evolution is bound to take us one day to that stage where it will be possible
for us to dwell permanently in that level of consciousness of which our
present mystic experiences, even the best of them, give nothing more than
the faintest glimmering. For Sri Aurobindo the problem of philosophy
is to investigate the conditions under which such a possibility can arise.
He is not interested in singing the virtues of the mystic experience as a
freak consciousness unrelated to the rest of our experience. But that is
precisely what interests the mystic. I have therefore always maintained
that Sri Aurobindo is not a mystic.
A Few Words on Sri Aurobindo
/~\NLY rarely do we South Americans come in contact with remote
literature. It is perhaps one of the paradoxes of the world that
semi-asiatic people such as we are should harbour such fabulous ignorance
about the Indo-European and Oriental portions of the globe and fail to
recognise our mongolian and Polynesian strains, while at the same time
feel a kinship to this or that part of Europe.
Because of this anomalous situation the vast culture of Asia has reached
our shores only in the form of three guests: the works of Tagore, one book
of Gandhi, and a few emasculated fragments of the Mahabarata and the
Ramayana. Even the rare oriental book which does arrive, usually in a
twice removed translation, labours under several severe handicaps in trying
to reach our people; these religious texts are abstruse and our ordinary reader
is an easy-going fellow who very much prefers uncomplicated literature
through which he can race with little effort. The Oriental texts, on the
contrary, are veritable mountains, not easily scaled and their steep sides offer
little solace to the weary climber; they require in fact heroic efforts from
the reader, like those which must be made by one who aspires to plumb
the depth of the sea or scale our high Andes, which present obstacles
second only to the Himalayas.
Thus the discovery of Sri Aurobindo came to me late and in a mutilated
form. On the shop counter of a French book-stall I unexpectedly came
across a copy of "The Mother" and found myself in contact with one of
those pieces which are so intense and beautiful that they captivate at once
even though they are mere fragments of something far greater. I sought
for more by the unknown author and I was told of " The Synthesis of
Yoga". Unfortunately I did not find then his central work "The Life Divine"
and I have remained until today thirsting for it. (I remember smiling at
a photograph of the Hindu sage whose features seemed to me so much like
these of my South Pacific peoples; to those indigenous features which
recur everywhere between Peru and Mexico.) I read these books knowing
A FEW WORDS ON SRI AUROBINDO
almost nothing about the author: his strange Indo-European background, his
high rank in oriental letters and his wide influence on Indian political life.
To give an opinion on a writer read in double translation is a painful
ordeal. Honesty and diffidence would normally require one to abstain
from comment under such circumstances and therefore I write this appraisal
with shy misgivings. I can only hope to give my South America, my beloved
Chile some glimmering participation in this great day of jubilation. For
the man who is now retired in his Asram belongs to that order of human
beings who are universal because of the breadth of their message and who,
like gushing fountains, bring refreshment and solace to the human race.
It is probable that if the extinct League of Nations and the "United
Nations" of today had in their midst more true apostles and fewer tricky
politicians, their debates would be attended with more Divine Grace for
the good of humanity. Even in Greek mythology Mercury-Commerce
followed rather than preceded Apollo, the enchanter of man. We must
eliminate from the Conclave of Nations all this name calling and empty
speech making entirely devoid of any sincere desire for Spiritual Unity.
The word "world- wide" recurs in these debates only because our delegates
are descendants of men of a high spiritual order. On the other hand this
term has never lost its true meaning in that Asia scorned by Europe which
has become the victim of a great amnesia. To have forgotten one's Mother
is perhaps the greatest amnesia and the Orient is the mother of Europe
in every sense, for it is to the Orient that European culture owes its birth
and sustenance. If the word "unity" is repeated by a faithful Asia day after
day it is simply because it is the first letter in their moral alphabet. It is
repeated in the morning prayer and in the evening vespers of the faithful.
The devotees of Asia have always striven to encompass in their faith the
entire human race. Nothing is cut off or excluded by frightening chasms.
There is no attempt to evaluate nations by economic standards. The same
cannot be said of our own preachers whose sphere is usually bounded by
their own coastlines or by the white-washed marker stones of frontiers
whose origin is political and therefore false. No learned man today need
remain in absolute ignorance of the two religions which encompass mil-
lions of Asiatics. A sincere attempt to approach Buddhism to mention
only one of the more profound Oriental creeds would free us from the
error of making infantile mockery of a great religion, which was surely
the forerunner of Christianity and the prologue to the "Great Event".
This sea of prose of Sri Aurobindo turns out to be a Mediterranean smooth
and buoyant like the one which bore the galleons of old.
Six foreign languages have given the Master of Pondicherry a gift of
SRI AUROBINDO MANDIR ANNUAL
co-ordination, a clarity free from gaudiness, and a charm which borders on
the magical. These are three atributes which are rarely found together in
the exegete even less in the Seer. Some fall into the sin of obscurity, others
suffer from doctrinarian fever, a serious thing which leads us astray seizing
us in the grip of religious controversies. Moreover, apostles and exegetes
usually lack the beauty of expression though the substance they seek to
expound may come from the world of the Divine and be more precious
than gold or rare spices.
Mysticism has been declared by many as a dangerous zone. It is said
to be barren and even disreputable. In the two branches of Christianity,
Catholic and Protestant it is viewed with suspicion as a malarial marsh
covered with unhealthy mists. In spite of the glorious names of our saints
and devotees, from St John the Evangelist to Ruysbroek and Spain's contin-
gent of enlightened souls, the majority of ordinary Christians as well as
the spiritual petit bourgeoisie of Christian hierarchy still seem altogether
afraid of approaching the great zone of fire.
Sri Aurobindo, the Master, highest of mystics, happily presents the rare
phenomenon of an exposition clear as a beautiful diamond, without the
danger of confounding the layman. This is possible only because Sri
Aurobindo is a unique synthesis of a scholar, a theologian and one who is
These are indeed "glad tidings" that come to us; to know that there is
a place in the world where culture has reached its tone of dignity by uniting
in one man a supernatural life with a consummate literary style, thus making
use of his beautifully austere and classical prose to serve as the handmaid
of the Spirit. One finds here texts which do not belabour with the anxious
stutterings so common to saintly souls whose poor expression often dis-
suades even the most zealous readers. We have before us a prose which
approximates that of the great Eckhart, German classicist and fountain-head
of European mysticism.
It is a gift which reaches us at a time when we are besieged by a
petrifying materialism,, in which we have been living since the surge of
French and English rationalism destroyed the tenets of Universal Chris-
tianity. I should like to know if the co-ordination which an inner discip-
line of the spiritual type gives and the perfect agreement between a spiritual
doctrine and a way of life are always necessarily reflected in a human
writing of the highest order. The extraordinary case of Sri Aurobindo the
writer surely seems to give great validity to such a thesis.
(Translated from Spanish).